By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent
He played no part in Argentina’s World Cup qualifying campaign, yet on Monday a small band of fans gathered in the centre of Buenos Aires to petition for Carlos Tevez’s inclusion in Alejandro Sabella’s squad for the finals tournament in Brazil. They held flags carrying the inscriptions ‘Tevez Seleccion’ and ‘Tevez al Mundial’, and all the while sung songs deifying the Juventus striker.
But their pleas fell on deaf ears.
When the Albiceleste head for their training base near Belo Horizonte, they will do so without the driving force behind Juve’s record-breaking Serie A season, with Sabella announcing on Tuesday that Tevez is not to be a part of his 23-man World Cup panel. Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain and Manchester City star Sergio Aguero will don the famous blue and white stripes alongside Lionel Messi this summer, but Tevez will not.
A superb return of 21 goals in all competitions, including 19 in the league as the Bianconeri marched to the verge of 100 points, have seen Tevez’s stock rise once more, yet Sabella has been unwilling to buckle under the weight of public pressure.
"I think the coach of Argentina's national team must not have satellite television hooked up to watch Juventus," Tevez joked recently when asked about his hopes of returning to the national fold. He knew some time ago that the writing was on the wall.
At the age of 30, it would appear that Carlitos’ World Cup career has been ended on the back of a season in which he adapted so quickly to Italian football that, less than two months into the campaign, Juve coach Antonio Conte had to fend off suggestions that the Turin outfit had become a one-man team centred on the qualities of their No.10.
It is fair to say, though, that Tevez hasn’t helped himself over the years.
Time and again, he has spoken publicly about international retirement and the tiresome task that is travelling back and forth for Argentina fixtures. And when he was included in the squad for the 2011 Copa America on the back of a campaign by media, fans and even members of the government, his response was to turn up 6kg overweight, completely underperform and, ultimately, miss the penalty that eliminated the Albiceleste at the quarter-final stage.
Soon after, his club career seemed to be spiralling out of control, with his infamous bust-up with Roberto Mancini resulting in him sitting out of four months of football while at Manchester City. But just as he turned around his fortunes there to become a Premier League champion before moving on to Juve and adding an Italian league title, many were hoping for a similar renaissance in the national shirt.
Yet the man once introduced by the public address announcer in Messi’s home state of Santa Fe as “the player of the people” is clearly not the kind of character Sabella believes can bring the best out of his other squad members.
Tevez’s exile has coincided with the national side’s most convincing qualifying campaign in some years, and the coach is not willing to rock the boat now. Instead, the striker is a held up as a symbol of an Argentina that was underprepared, that underperformed, and that wasn’t ready to win a World Cup.
But when the Albiceleste square up to Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 15, they will do so without arguably their best-performing player of the last 12 months. If they win the World Cup, Alejandro Sabella will forever remain a national hero. But if they don't, he will always be asked about the wisdom of overlooking Tevez.