When Carlos Tevez first returned to West Ham as a Manchester United player, he walked into the centre of the pitch and crossed his wrists in a salute familiar to any Hammer. Then he rigorously applauded the home fans Ã¢ÂÂ to an enthusiastic response.
Eyebrows were raised in the away end, but little said; even though they won that day, West Ham were as much of a threat to United as Manchester City have been for three decades. They were as irrelevant as the Ã¢ÂÂBack ManchesterÃ¢ÂÂs Host City BidÃ¢ÂÂ pitchside adverts at Old Trafford. (Public money is being wasted on those Ã¢ÂÂ as if an England World Cup bid wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt feature Manchester.)
Tevez got a very different reaction when he applauded the Stretford End in the Manchester derby. Raised in Buenos Aires Ã¢ÂÂ a city with more derby games than any Ã¢ÂÂ he should understand derbies. He played for Boca Juniors, whose derby with River Plate is probably the planetÃ¢ÂÂs most intense. He starred for Corinthians, whose match against Sao Paulo is among the most febrile in Brazil.
Tevez should know that derbies are not love-ins, nor for seeking approval by clapping rival fans. He honestly thought that he could go to Old Trafford and get a decent reaction from United fans.
From his point of view, he was a tireless performer in red for two years and felt heÃ¢ÂÂd earned that respect, just as heÃ¢ÂÂd done at West Ham. ItÃ¢ÂÂs true that he was an industrious United performer, one of the best in the 2008 European Cup Final. He was so popular that thousands of United fans sang Ã¢ÂÂFergie, sign him upÃ¢ÂÂ following the final game of last season, choosing the inopportune moment of FergieÃ¢ÂÂs appreciation speech.
Since he moved to Manchester City, there has been some staggering revisionism from United fans who, at the dash of a signature, decided he was worse than Ralph Milne and uglier than the Elephant man.
The Athletic Bilbao coach JoaquÃÂn CaparrÃÂ³s said: Ã¢ÂÂIn football, you can go from whore to nun in five minutes.Ã¢ÂÂ HeÃ¢ÂÂs right, and it works the other way.
Football fans operate in a self-serving pantomime of playground emotions. Arguments are selected to suit, rejection taken in its most base form - with spite. And hypocrisy thrives.
I saw United fans absolutely slaughter Alan Smith when he played for Leeds... and then welcome him when he moved to Old Trafford. Michael Owen was a dirty Scouse rat... until he signed for United. HeÃ¢ÂÂs now the fourth most popular name on the back of shirts in the Old Trafford Megastore.
(Not that the people who buy replica shirts should be any barometer of credibility. Wayne Rooney is way out in front; while he plies his trade on the pitch, United fans sing songs about putting Scousers on a bonfire and burning it.)
Fans slate the media, yet they are the first to take the bait when the media whips up a feud before a big game like the Manchester derby. They hammer players for not speaking their mind and talking in clichÃÂ©s, then slaughter them when they actually speak their mind. Damned if they do...
IÃ¢ÂÂve lost count of the number of emails in recent days from people whoÃ¢ÂÂve decided that Mark Hughes Ã¢ÂÂ whom they idolised as a player Ã¢ÂÂ is a darker force than the Taliban. A few have had a real go at Brian Kidd.
Now I know Brian and I like him. He would have loved to return to Old Trafford at any time in the last 10 years, but that wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have happened with Sir Alex Ferguson in charge. So heÃ¢ÂÂs spent most of the last few years commuting from his family home in Manchester and living in hotels away from his family. He was at Portsmouth last season and could have stayed, but itÃ¢ÂÂs five hours from home.
HeÃ¢ÂÂs taken a job heading up CityÃ¢ÂÂs youth academy, where IÃ¢ÂÂm sure heÃ¢ÂÂll excel, though I wonder whether heÃ¢ÂÂll keep his United season tickets. Some United fans are disappointed that he took the job. Did they want him to sit at home unemployed, away from the game he loves?
I spoke to Andrew Cole about this last week. Ã¢ÂÂFans donÃ¢ÂÂt always appreciate players signing for rival clubs, but fans arenÃ¢ÂÂt professional footballers,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂThey donÃ¢ÂÂt have to make such choices between football clubs, but in their working lives fans have to make choices and do what is best for their career at that time.
Ã¢ÂÂAs long as they give 100% to the company they work for, it shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt bother anyone. ThatÃ¢ÂÂs all I ever did, work my socks off to make whoever I played for a better team.Ã¢ÂÂ
The problem comes because players have a different set of rules to fans, who apply morals they wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt adhere to under the same circumstances. Fans hold up players like Ryan Giggs and Jamie Carragher as examples of loyal one-club men, but such players are very lucky and in a position most players would envy.
TheyÃ¢ÂÂre at top clubs and have the choice whether to stay or go Ã¢ÂÂ 99% of professional footballers donÃ¢ÂÂt (although it still amuses me that Gary Neville verbally abused Jordi Cruyff when he was linked with Liverpool and told him that he couldnÃ¢ÂÂt move Ã¢ÂÂto themÃ¢ÂÂ).
Tevez had a choice, though, and he chose money, although heÃ¢ÂÂll have his side of the story. Maybe other unsavoury elements made the decision for him. ItÃ¢ÂÂs not black and white, but fans try and make it a black and white issue, hero or zero, in the same way they describe someone they donÃ¢ÂÂt actually know as a Ã¢ÂÂlegendÃ¢ÂÂ or a Ã¢ÂÂwankerÃ¢ÂÂ simply because they did or didnÃ¢ÂÂt stop to sign an autograph.
Tevez made his decision and heÃ¢ÂÂs hardly the first footballer to follow the money route, but if he thinks he can come back and everything will be fine then heÃ¢ÂÂs naÃÂ¯ve. Then again, laughing as he left the field will hardly have endeared him to City fans, either...
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