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Jun 26, 2013

Time is right for City to let Tevez go

Four years ago, it was, infamously, 'Welcome to Manchester'. The Manchester United-baiting billboard in the city centre set the tone for a controversial career at the Etihad Stadium. Now, it is 'farewell to Manchester' for Carlos Tevez. The confirmation that he will join Juventus has brought down the curtain on a Manchester City career unlike any other.

His goodbyes were said six weeks ago, Tevez being substituted to a standing ovation in the final game of the season, the 3-2 defeat to Norwich, and applauding all four stands. Player and supporters alike realised the implications; they were not the actions of a man merely signalling the end of his campaign. It was a fond farewell, itself an achievement after Tevez's tumultuous year in 2011-12 and his repeated transfer requests.

It was also definitive. For four successive transfer windows between January 2011 and the summer of 2012, it appeared the Argentine could leave. He never did. This time was different; City's asking price was lower, their expectations changed. With one year left on Tevez's contract, it made sense to cash in, rather than risk losing him on a free transfer, giving a new deal to a player whose wages are huge or paying him bonuses he would be due next season.

While Tevez had talked of a move to Monaco or Paris Saint-Germain, while AC Milan had been past suitors, Juventus came calling. Perhaps his recruitment, together with the signing of Fernando Llorente, means an end to the mix-and-match strike partnerships Antonio Conte has deployed intelligently in winning back-to-back Serie A titles. Perhaps Juve will finally have world-class goalscorers.

But only perhaps. There is a sense that Manchester has seen the best of Tevez. There was his goal at Old Trafford to cap his extraordinary individual efforts to save West Ham from relegation in 2007. Then he made a colossal contribution to United in their Champions League-winning season the following year, scoring crucial goals, proving an indefatigable lone striker in the semi-final triumph over Barcelona and, while being overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo, nonetheless out-performing Wayne Rooney.

Tevez slipped down the pecking order after Dimitar Berbatov's arrival, only to regain his pre-eminence by swapping one half of Manchester for the other. The modern-day Denis Law was a divisive figure but proved a potent spearhead for the nouveau riche in their quest to overtake the established order. His first two seasons in blue brought 29 and 23 goals, the armband and the honour of becoming the first City captain in 35 years to lift a major trophy.

Yet the paradox in his character is that a player whose commitment to the team is unquestioned on the field ploughs an idiosyncratic furrow off it. The willing workhorse was the constant controversialist.

His problems occurred off the pitch - albeit only metres off it in Munich's Allianz Arena in September 2011 when his refusal to warm up led to a six-month gap between first-team appearances, much of which Tevez spent golfing in exile in Argentina while costing himself £9.6 million in lost salary and bonuses - and it is beyond dispute that he has been poorly advised, whether making frequent requests to be sold or deciding to drive while banned, which could have landed him in jail. He escaped with 250 hours' community service instead.

Ultimately, even Mario Balotelli caused City less trouble than the striking striker. But after making the journey from idol to pariah, Tevez was rehabilitated as his relationship with Roberto Mancini was repaired. He marked his return to the fold by setting up the winner against Chelsea. He started each of City's six successive wins in their perfect finish to the title-winning campaign. Tevez had his revenge over United, who preferred to pay £30 million for Berbatov than for him.

And yet he neither scored the April 2012 winner against United - his successor as captain, Vincent Kompany, did - or the title-deciding goal, which Sergio Aguero delivered. There had been a subtle shift in the pecking order. He was no longer the headline act. His fellow Argentine Aguero was the premier striker, though they had an outstanding record when paired and Tevez was City's most-used and most consistent forward last season.

But 47 games only produced 17 goals, two of them in spurts: four in four in August and September, six in four in February and March. Otherwise, there were uncharacteristic droughts. There was no lack of effort from a player who seems to deem standing still a crime - it is tempting to imagine him running even when caddying for his friend Andres Romero in The Open - but his sharpness seemed dulled; perhaps by age (he turned 29 in February) and a considerable workload, but seemingly with the loss of a yard of pace during the impromptu six-month break in his career. Tevez has not been called up for Argentina since, a further indication he is in decline.

While his exit means Aguero is the only striker guaranteed to be at City next season - Edinson Cavani may not be coming; Edin Dzeko may yet be going - the timing is nevertheless right for the club. Tevez was the statement signing who helped propel City to a new level. Now a man who has the rare distinction of having been loved and hated in both halves of Manchester is leaving a city he once intimated was boring.

Unlike his six-year stay there, a unique cocktail of silverware and sweat, goals and rows. That was anything but boring.

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