Two months ago, it would have been considered one of the shock team sheets of the season at the Etihad stadium on Wednesday. Only Paul Scholes’ sudden inclusion in a Manchester United squad at the same location three months previous could outdo the surprise factor.
As it turned out, Carlos Tevez’s inclusion in the starting XI for the game against West Bromwich Albion resulted in nothing more than a shrug of the shoulder from most. It was of little surprise. Mario Balotelli had veered off-course again and was once more on the naughty step. Edin Dzeko seems to be the invisible man to his manager nowadays, shorn of confidence, and having lost the support of the man that matters. So unless Roberto Mancini wanted to play one small Argentinean upfront, he had a problem. It was little surprise then that he chose to play two.
In an ideal world this would never have happened. I doubt Roberto Mancini particularly wanted to play Carlos Tevez again, in the same way that most fans didn’t want to see him, nor would Carlos be straining at the leash to get back to Manchester’s two restaurants. But it seems sorry is the easiest word to say, and after Carlos uttered the magical word, bridges could, and were built. After all, here was a player on a cool couple of hundred thousand a week, so best to make some use of that after potential sales fell through in the January transfer window.
I had always thought that much of the reconciliation was little more than legal manoeuvring, both sides showing a willingness to co-operate so that they could blame the other side should it end up in a courtroom. There was even a story that City HAD to play Tevez as footballing rules stated that players must be allowed the chance to play in 10% of games in a season (fitness permitting). It sounds more ridiculous than Paul Scholes getting Player of the Year for this season, so it’s probably true. It seems fair to presume that an in-form City would not have called on his services at all. But the league lead has slipped away, the goals dried up away from home. Many a fan has speculated at how big a difference he could have made in games such as the losses at Sunderland and Swansea. Suddenly, with the title ebbing away, both manager and fans softened their stance – probably best to forgive and forget for both sides.
Times change, and the money-orientated world of football does not allow for moral crusades and matters of principle – there is too much at stake. Not that City have done anything that reprehensible, apart from use a person on their payroll. Tevez had proved his fitness, so was in the team on merit. Maybe Mancini had given up on the season anyway, like many City fans. Maybe this was the last role of the dice to invigorate a labouring team and push United to the end. Either way, it worked. Aguero stole the show with a double, but Tevez brought back fonder memories with a lively display that included a goal, before being substituted in the second half.
The question is, will he now remain in the team for good? Mancini hinted that Balotelli would not play again this season, but then he probably expected a lengthy ban. Now he will be back in a couple of games, and Mancini might have a dilemma. Having stated two players wouldn’t play for the team again, he now has to decide which one to pick, if not both. Still, better this than Tevez playing golf in Argentina. And the previously unthinkable thought has now surfaced – is there really a chance, however small, that City will start next season with Tevez still part of their ranks? Probably not, but at the end of the day he is a magnificent striker, and different from anyone else at the club. He sacrificed his chance for legend status by his reprehensible actions earlier this season – but for that he has paid a massive price, and now might suddenly have a huge part to play.