Carlos Tevez Shanghai ShenhuaGetty Images

The $40M heist - how Tevez took China for the most expensive ride in football history

Trust Diego Maradona, a man who knows a thing or two about taking spurious yet lucrative job offers in far-flung lands, to sum up Carlos Tevez's 12 months in China better than anyone else.

“He went there, filled up Santa's sack with dollars, and came back to Boca. It was perfect,” the Argentina and Boca legend said of his successor as darling of the Bombonera in a suitably festive metaphor. It is hard to argue with that take: while Carlitos' Shenhua spell was an unmitigated disaster from a footballing perspective, it undeniably paid off in the forward's bank balance.

Just one year after arriving in Shanghai to great fanfare the acclaimed 'Player of the People' is back at Boca for a third spell. But the thousands of Chinese fans who cheered his transfer at the start of 2017 would be justified in feeling more than a little aggrieved after witnessing one of the most unjust foreign interventions since the Opium Wars, a robbery that Tevez's namesake Carlos the Jackal would have been proud to call his own.

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The former Juventus, Manchester City and Man United star took the field just 20 times for Shenhua, in a spell plagued by poor form, niggling (and in many cases rather doubtful) injuries and deplorable levels of fitness and professionalism. On just four occasions did he manage to trouble the scorers, while his side finished a pitiful 11th in the Superleague and crashed out in Asian Champions League qualifying.

Only victory in the Chinese FA Cup, spearheaded by six goals from Obafemi Martins – one foreign player that, unlike Tevez, has been taken to Shenhua hearts for his commitment – salvaged an otherwise forgettable season. But it was small reward for a contract reputedly worth a mammoth $40 million for just one year: $2m a game, and $8m for every goal the flop managed to score.

There was plenty of controversy along the way, too. Seemingly treating his stay in China as the best-paid gap year in history, Tevez was likely to be found everywhere but the Shenhua training pitch in 2017. He raised hackles by visiting Shanghai Disneyland with his family while his team-mates played a Superleague match, and also found time to host an extravagant four-day wedding in his home country where the guests included President of Argentina, former Boca president Mauricio Macri and current Xeneize chief Daniel Angelici.


In a throwback to his turbulent final days at City Tevez could also be spotted regularly on Buenos Aires' finest golf courses, and was also in constant contact with Angelici over the worst-kept secret in Argentine football: his eventual return to Boca. One can imagine the dilemma at the Shenhua table as negotiations with Angelici, a former bingo magnate and judicial string-puller who rarely holds his tongue, drew on: on the one hand a determination to recoup at least some of their massive investment in Tevez; on the other, their desperate need to avoid Boca calling their bluff and leaving them with a $40m black hole for another 12 months.

In the end pragmatism won out: the Chinese side cut their losses and confirmed the sale, with Carlitos already happily settled back in Buenos Aires and with a room in Boca's Cardales training complex reserved for summer training.

“I cannot just leave, pick up 40 big ones and then come back to Boca,” the striker himself had declared upon departing the Bombonera last December. Happily, he had his own interpretation of events when he did return: “I never left”.

Those left behind at Shenhua, especially the accountants, must be wishing that was the case, and that Tevez's year in China was nothing more than a dream. But it was all too real, and while the 34-year-old receives yet another hero's welcome as Boca's prodigal son yet another of Carlitos' former employers must count the cost of his services.

The Great Chinese Heist paid off handsomely for the People's Player, who adds yet another club to that list of embittered exes who have been worked over by his irresistible charms.