In a career that took him from Boca Juniors to Brazil, England, Italy, China, and back again, Carlos Tevez never shirked a challenge. However, leading Rosario Central out of their awful current slump in the face of fan unrest may prove to be his toughest yet.
Some may find it hard to imagine a player who once went on strike mid-season at Manchester City trading his boots for a tracksuit and tactics whiteboard, but his intentions have been both clear and highly ambitious, not to mention unorthodox.
“I am really excited about the project I am putting together with my brothers and Chapa Retegui,” he confided on a popular talk show. “I have decided to coach.
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“We have been working together for four or five months and we are putting together a really good, global project. I am really into this.”
You may be forgiven if the name Retegui does not sound instantly familiar. Tevez's new Central assistant and namesake Carlos is well known in Argentine sporting circles, but for his prowess with a much smaller ball.
'Chapa' represented the Argentina hockey team for 17 years, winning Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996, and then as coach presided over a golden generation of women's talent. Under his watch, the Leonas lifted the 2009 Champions Trophy and 2014 World Cup, and also took two silvers at the Olympics, while the men's team (also coached by Retegui) won gold in 2016. A glittering CV, no doubt, but not a concrete indicator of success in football, especially in Central’s situation.
La Canalla finished the Copa Liga Profesional earlier this year rock-bottom in Group 2 with just four wins in 14 games, one of which was a dead rubber match against an Estudiantes reserve team.
They started the Liga Profesional in a similar vein, sacking Leonardo Somoza after two matches (both winless) before interim boss German Rivarola got them on the board with a 1-0 victory over Godoy Cruz on Thursday – the goal scored, curiously enough, by goalkeeper Gaspar Servio from the penalty spot.
Servio, for one, is enthused by the prospect of Tevez bringing Central back into the headlines. “The first day after the rumour started reminded me of Diego Maradona's arrival at Dorados,” the keeper who played under Diego for the Mexican club, told reporters.
“Having a star like Tevez come here made everything explode, I told the lads they should enjoy it and try to learn something.”
Others are less excited about the appointment.
Reports in Argentina suggest that Tevez was brought to to Central's attention by Christian Bragarnik, the nation's only bona fide super-agent with an exhaustive stable of clients that spans the entirety of the South American continent as well as Mexico, where he was also influential in landing Maradona in Dorados.
It is alleged that choosing Carlitos over fellow candidate and club idol Pablo 'Vitamina' Sanchez was a requisite Bragarnik imposed in return for allowing talent-starved Central access to his enormous client list. The Canalla, in common with most Argentine teams, are fiercely proud of their status as fan-owned, democratic enterprises, and wary of any process that could lead to a pseudo-privatisation of club administration with Bragarnik or ex-Boca president Daniel Angelici, a close friend of Tevez, running the show.
“It's a shame for us because we want a fan-owned club which respects its history,” Humberto Glavinich, presenter of the Central-based radio show El Puente Canalla for the last three decades, told Telam. “We don't want a coach that comes with Angelici and Retegui, less so in our current situation.”
Jose Vazquez, head of the Canalla Organisation for Latin America (OCAL) – a self-styled “Secret commando group of Central fans” whose previous 'greatest hits' include tracking down the surgically removed appendix of ex-player Ricardo De Rienzo for exhibition in a museum – also has mixed feelings about the new arrival.
“I have Canalla friends who have asked me to take them out of the fan group because they don't want to go on if Tevez coaches us,” he explained to Telam.
“My feeling is that I'm selling or giving up my soul, but on the other hand I start to think that maybe the Aztecs and Incas felt the same way when colonised by the Spanish, with those coloured beads. The flesh is weak, boys.” Vazquez's words probably speak for most Central fans, and football supporters on a more general level.
If the Tevez revolution succeeds, the Canalla faithful will look past his alleged backers and welcome him as one of their own.
Should he fall short, and push Central closer to what is shaping up to be a bitter relegation battle in 2023 due to Argentina's average points system, they will waste no time in turning on him and anyone perceived as involved in the project.
Carlitos knows better than anyone the nature of this particular beast, and he will be raring to go at the helm of one of the nation's biggest, most passionate clubs.