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Carlos Tevez and the Football Bubble

By Mark Burke



Manchester City have entered in the arena they have been working towards since the takeover of their club by Sheikh Mansour. This week they took on Real Madrid in one of the true temples of the beautiful game, the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, a fitting place for their new era to begin.

They traveled to the Spanish capital with a player who only last season had caused uproar by refusing to appear as a substitute at the request of his manager, Roberto Mancini. Many said he should never play again but I saw this differently and wrote about it at the time. I happen to think that it is still relevant. At the end of that article last year, I made a little prediction that has come true. See what you think.

First published in September 2011

This week the football community has been in a real tizzy over the refusal of Manchester City striker, Carlos Tevez to appear, as a substitute for 30 minutes in the Uefa Champions League against Bayern Munich and rightly so, most would say. His actions are obviously unacceptable, you are paid to play football, and if you refuse, then obviously you are in the wrong, unbelievably in the wrong.

Tevez is claiming a misunderstanding however we never really know what happens in these cases but its interesting to talk about this as it confirms peoples suspicions that footballers are getting much too big for their boots.

I look at it from another angle though and there is a part of me that understands Tevez actions, not accepting or condoning but understanding.

Within the football bubble, life is very different and this is what the outside world cannot see and cannot understand.

To refuse to do your job in any other walk of life would lead to instant dismissal, no question, but football is different, we all know that. Within a club, many players will tell you, that a valuable player can more or less do what he likes…as long as he performs.

Football, like any top professional sport, has its own laws written and unwritten. Anyone who has been in the game for a long period will tell you that certain things happen that would be questionable in any other walks of life. The fact is when you enter the football bubble and are in there for a long period, real life seems a long way away especially today when the players are completely insulated at the top levels.

Every time a player presses those four magic numbers at the ATM machine, he still has to pinch himself that somebody is paying him these vast amounts. But there is the key, like in any walk of life, if you do something every day, you get used to it. If you receive a certain amount of money every month, every year, you get used to it.

When people say to me its ridiculous what players earn, I say maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. With the amount that it is generated into the game, isn’t it logical that most of it goes to the players?

After all there are only two critical components that really count in football, players and fans and you can’t really pay the fans can you?

I tell people this and they hmmm, maybe. I also argue when they complain about player’s behaviour both on and off the pitch and I’ll give them a scenario. ‘Do you remember when you were 20 years old? What you were you doing? Where you living? What were you getting up on a night out? Admit it, you were a daft lad who didn’t know his backside from his elbow’.

What mistakes did you make? Do you remember? Can you remember?!

Well, hold that thought and now I am going to give you, that daft 20-year old, £50,000 pounds per week, PER WEEK.

I’m going to behave like Al Pacino did in the film Devils Advocate where he played the Devil. He made everyone become attracted to you, irrespective of your physical qualities. He’ll give you a level of fitness level that every other man could only dream of. He’ll give you endless stamina (comes in handy off the pitch) and every man who sees you, will want to be you. For all of this bounty, all you are obliged to do is apply yourself for 2 hours maximum per day and when that’s finished, the day is yours.

Now then, how does that feel?

Do you think you might become a little detached from reality? (I know about the pressures of performance and the cutthroat nature of the game. I know how quickly the game moves on the day the new kid is in town to take your place but that’s another story for another time)

Do you think it’s possible that you might make a few errors of judgement? Say the wrong thing to a journalist? Come in a little later than you should? Drink a few more than you should on the odd occasion? Get caught at the wrong time with the wrong girl?

Of course you will, because you did! Only you didn’t do it with all that money in your pocket and people in your face.

Personally I’m actually amazed that so FEW footballers do the ‘wrong’ thing when you look at what they receive at such a young age. A person of prestige in their own society may have to work 20 years before they reach such status. I think most players can be very proud that the majority of their fellow professionals behave as they do.

Carlos Tevez, a world class player has been used to these for many years now, the world he lives in bears no relation to his ‘old’ life, real life and indeed to the life of top footballers even as short a time as 20 years ago.

When you have been playing football as long as you can remember, when it is as natural as breathing and then its denied you, you’re not thinking about the money. In fact, very few footballers actually think about money when playing the game, although that’s hard to believe, its true. Deep down they just want to play and win, the money is the cushion when the heat has died down.

Sitting on the bench in Munich, Tevez feels as aggrieved as any Sunday morning park player who has been dropped from the team and feels he is better than any of the players on the pitch.

Tevez is thinking about the blow to his pride, his professional pride, his ego, and his vanity. Who is this man to deny me my right, my right to play football? All I want to do is play!!!

It’s like being around children, except that they’re in grown up, adult bodies. We stay children forever and footballers are probably worse than most because playing football prolongs that youth. Every day is an extension of the classroom, with all its jokes, piss takes, stories, intrigues, rivalries and with none of the boring parts that you used to have at school.

From the moment the team has been announced and he is not in it, in his head the world has changed. He feels humiliated, cheated, disrespected, thoughts of money do not enter his head now, only the fact that when the team runs out onto the pitch, he will walk to the bench, sit down, and watch the game start without him.

He will look at the manager’s back as he roams the technical area and secretly curse him, hate him and inside boil with frustration. This is not a rotation policy, being rested for the next game. This is the manager saying that the team is better without you. No matter how much the player earns, this is hard to swallow.

We are at a time, especially in England, where the main topic surrounding football is money, not the game, not the tactics but the money and especially the money paid to the players.

Everybody is shaking their heads and talking about how obscene it is that the players earn these figures. In the last15 years the game has changed out of all recognition. The players have changed, at least in the perceptions of the fans. The Premiership has changed becoming a money table where the more money you spend, the higher you finish.

There is now a sense of a lost world, a world where football was a game of the people, by the people, for the people but now it seems that they feel they’re bystanders. They’re watching some invisible giant hand slowly but surely edging them out of the picture, almost a necessary evil to be tolerated but not indulged.

Many fans are becoming apathetic towards their teams chances, knowing that unless they spend massive sums, they are doomed to mediocrity. I obviously can only speak from my experience but I bet, when you have your next conversation about football, it will be about 30 seconds and then somebody mentions money and the evil it spreads in the game.

This is all relevant to the Tevez incident because this has engendered bitterness and resentment towards footballers and why it has sparked such debate. I sense a deep resignation from real football fans or maybe I should say fans of a certain age that have lived through that Rubicon crossing moment when Sky entered the game and changed it forever.

He will know, now, that he made a massive, massive, massive mistake. He turned fans and regular people against him. He’d given the manager no choice, he has to leave but does he?

Football is the most unbelievable bubble where the villain one day can be the hero the next. It has been said that in politics it takes 11 days for a crisis to be swept off the front pages and football is similar.

If Tevez and his ‘advisers’ were to go on a PR offensive (probably using a real PR company these days), apologised profusely and swore blindly that things were misconstrued, lost in translation (the old favourite of overseas players when they want to criticise the club but don’t want to get fined). If he appealed to the fans, professed his love for the club, the city, his teammates, the manager and then scored the winner in the next derby - then the fans of his club, who are now filling the airwaves and internet chat sites with bile and venom may well say, “oh well, he’s made a mistake, he’s said sorry, let’s get behind him, after all, he is still one of ours isn’t he?”

Paul Scholes talks about it here:

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/sport/football/3845114/Paul-Scholes-feels-for-Carlos-Tevez.html