Carlos Tevez's return to Boca Juniors, Argentina's transfer coup of the year
Prodigal sons returning home are a feature of just about every Argentine transfer window, but the return of Carlos Tevez to Boca Juniors last week has been the cause of more headlines than most. Announced by Boca hours before Tevez's spot kick sent Argentina through to the Copa America semifinals after a shootout with Colombia, the move brings an end to Tevez's European career (for now, at least) and signals the only Boca foray into the transfer market that anyone really cares about.
The move itself doesn't surprise anyone; ever since he left Boca to move to Corinthians for €15 million -- at the time the most expensive transfer ever between two South American clubs -- Tevez has made no secret of one day wanting to return to the club where he made his professional debut. It's a familiar route for Argentine players, whose deep-rooted feelings for their home clubs are rarely far from the surface. Juan Sebastian Veron, for example, returned to play (and win the Copa Libertadores in 2008) with Estudiantes de La Plata, and now serves as the club's president.
There are other recent examples -- Gabriel Milito returned to Independiente in the twilight of his career, and later managed the club's youth sides (funnily enough, he's now in charge of Estudiantes' first team, with Veron as his boss), whilst Gabriel's brother Diego returned to play for Independiente's hated rivals Racing last year and helped them to the Argentine championship in December.
Even in the same week as Boca announced Tevez's signing, he wasn't the only returnee -- their rivals River Plate have just confirmed the returns of two former players, Javier Saviola and Lucho Gonzalez (the latter of whom is actually a Racing supporter, but explained that the chance of winning continental silverware with the club he left a decade ago made his mind up -- River have a Copa Libertadores semifinal with Paraguayan side Guarani coming up).
The difference between those returnees and Tevez isn't hard to spot, though. Veron was 31 when he returned; Diego Milito 35; Gabriel just 30, but with fitness and playing time at Barcelona both major concerns; Saviola and Gonzalez are 33 and 34, respectively. Only Veron was at a comparable stage in his career to Tevez now -- 31 years old and with a decent amount of appearances last season under his belt.
The Argentine press are hugely biased towards the two domestic giants -- River and Boca -- and as such this month's three veteran returnees have all made a big splash, but Boca enjoy more of the media adulation than River, by and large, and Tevez -- famously called 'the player of the people' by none other than Diego Maradona -- is held in such huge adulation that it's his return that grabbed all the front pages.
Of course, it helps that Saviola and Gonzalez have both long since bidden farewell to their international careers, whilst Tevez is in his prime and featuring (albeit so far as a substitute) for Argentina in the ongoing Copa America.
Which is salient as Tevez wanted to return to Boca while he was still able to be useful for them, not in his mid-to-late thirties with no knees left, and that desire has provided the club with probably the coup of the winter transfer window in Argentina.
Boca's year so far has been a strange one. They started with fantastic results in all competitions, but took criticism from many quarters all the same from those who said they hadn't really played any proper opposition in the first few months of the year.
When harder tests began, results dropped off, most notably in the Copa Libertadores last sixteen when, although they were ejected from the tournament after the pepper spray attack on River Plate's players, the truth was they'd been thoroughly outplayed over the match and a half of the tie that did take place.
League results also worsened. In spite of that, Boca currently sit second in the table, just a point behind leaders San Lorenzo. For a club who've given every appearance of spending the last few months in crisis, they're not doing at all badly.
Their drop-off in form has been mirrored by the man Tevez is in a way replacing, on-loan Southampton misfit Daniel Osvaldo. Osvaldo -- an Italian international but born and raised here in Argentina, and a lifelong Boca fan -- arrived on loan in January amid much fanfare, and initially appeared to be much too good for the Argentine league, but his form has seriously fallen away in the last couple of months.
Tevez should also turn out to be genuinely too good for the Argentine league, and it's not at all hard to see why Boca and their fans are so excited about his return. Tevez's international record isn't as impressive as his reputation suggests, but at club level, where he's able to be the main man and has time to work with his managers and teammates, he's always been a cut above even in some of the world's toughest leagues.
This year's Argentine Primera might be more physical than he's become used to, but that won't make it any more of a challenge.
Since the transfer was announced, of course, Tevez has been on-message with the national team, so has had almost nothing to say about the move (and he'll only sign his contract after the Copa America ends). Boca, in bagging a player with a year left on his Juventus contract for nothing more than percentages of some youth players' future transfers, have pulled off quite a coup. Their fans -- and the country's press -- will be delighted to welcome their idol home.
Sam Kelly is based in Buenos Aires and has been one of ESPNFC's South America correspondents since 2008. Twitter: @HEGS_com