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The Tevez Problem

So far, the biggest loser from the signing of Dimitar Berbatov has been Carlos Tevez. He didn’t get on the pitch at all against Chelsea, failed to gel with the Bulgarian against Notlob, and was relegated to the bench for the games against Aalborg and Blackburn. His industry whilst on the pitch haven’t been rewarded with goals, and at the same time Rooney is returning to something like his best form.

And yet talks are on-going to make his contract permanent by paying MSI (the company who “owns” him) an eye-watering sum, reported to be around £32m. Which is more than we paid for Berba or, for that matter, anyone else. Ever. Spot the disconnect? Doesn’t take a genius.

There are essentially three questions:

1. Has Tevez really become a reserve?
2. Should we retain Tevez on a permanent deal?
3. How much should we pay for him?

Has Tevez really become a reserve?

I would certainly say that Tevez has become the second choice support striker to Berbatov. There’s been a lot of debate about whether Tevez is better than Rooney or vice versa, but to my mind Rooney is a much better fit with Berbatov.

The reason for this is that Berba isn’t a poacher who plays right up top all the time in the Van Nistelrooy mould – as we saw against Blackburn, he likes to pull off and receive the ball to feet with his back to goal. When he does this, Rooney is adept at pushing forward into the spaces behind Berba as an auxiliary target man (think of his goal against Aalborg as an example). Indeed, Rooney played much of last season as the main striker.

Tevez, on the other hand, is almost never to be found on the shoulder of the last man. He is rarely in a one-on-one situations (Rooney is sometimes criticised for missing too many, but at least he gets there), and is mostly to be found surging from deep or from wide. Therefore, when Berbatov drops off, it is unlikely that Tevez will “swap” and take him place as the line leader. We will lack the kind of central, goal-poaching presence in exactly the same way as we did for much of last season, relying instead on intricate moves or pieces of magic from deeper-lying players.

That is not to say there is not a role for Tevez. It would be criminal of Fergie not to try the 4-2-3-1 approach, with Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo playing behind Berbatov. It might not work – it might be a case of too many cooks – but it surely must be tried. If it does work, and if a role can be created for Tevez to raid from a wider starting position (something he has done in the past for Argentina), then he certainly mustn’t be a reserve. But if it doesn’t work, then unfortunately the answer to the question is “yes, Tevez has become a reserve”.

So, should we sign him?

On the face of it (and not considering price for the moment), this seems like a no-brainer. Even if we can’t accomodate him regularly in a first choice line-up, over the course of the season injury, fatigue and just plain rotation will see him play a good number of games, make important contributions and score a decent number of goals. As an impact sub he would be almost unparalleled.

However, before signing a player who may have to spend more games than he would like on the bench, you need to know more about his temperament. On the one hand, you have the Ole Solskjaers, Darren Fletchers and Wes Browns of this world, who would prefer to be part of a successful squad than a starter for a team winning nothing. But Tevez seems a bit too good to be accepting this sort of role on a long term basis – the teams who coming knocking on his door will be of the Real Madrid calibre, not the Spurs calibre.

Therefore, even if he is initially happy with a role as junior partner in a rotation system, the offers and the stories linking him away from Old Trafford will be relentless. Such rumours, as we found out in the extreme case of Ronaldo over the summer, can be massively unsettling for both the player and the club.

In the long term, if Tevez can’t nail down a regular place in the first team, he’ll leave, even if it is reluctantly. Which begs the question – why sign him in the first place?

How much should we pay for Tevez?

This is the real crux. If we could sign Tevez for two more years at £10m, we should do it without batting an eyelid. But for £32m? For a player who may well end up being a regular substitute? On top of the £5 approx that we have already paid as his loan fee? It’s just madness.

Apart from the sheer ludicrousness of sitting our most expensive player on the bench two matches out of three, we’d have no hope of getting anything like our money back when he moves on. If we sold him on for £20m in 18 months time, we’d be doing well.

So if we do decide to sign him, about £20m is the most that we should be prepared to pay, and we should be looking to get that down to nearer £15m (at the cost of additional payments based on appearances, goals etc). But is there a deal to be done at that price? You would have thought not, since the company that owns his rights will be looking for a much bigger return on their investment, and could certainly get a higher price in the open market. And we could certainly buy a decent support striker who is happy to be part of a rotation system for that amount of money.

I don’t like where my train of thought leads me – where this article is going. I don’t want to let Tevez go, I love the lad, I love his attitude, and he’s scored some crucial goals for us. But pure, cold-eyed business sense dictates that, unless the dream-team Fab Four up front works, we may have to let Red Tev move on.

Penguin, the author of this article, also blogs here.