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Tevez finds himself 'odd man out' at United

Having first saved West Ham, he may now, albeit entirely inadvertently, harm them. Evidently among the more patriotic footballers, he nevertheless dented Argentina's chances of reaching the World Cup by being dismissed twice in the space of three internationals. There is a temptation to view Carlos Tevez as a force of nature, leaving a trail of destruction wherever he goes.

Yet Tevez is a player damaged by events this season. While Sheffield United and umpteen lawyers debate the final and costly legacy of his eventful spell at West Ham, he is blameless in that sorry saga. But after winning the title and the Champions League in his first season at Manchester United, he has been sidelined for too much of their defence of both trophies. United's player of the month for August has figured far too infrequently in the subsequent three months.

Meanwhile, in increasingly familiar fashion, Real Madrid are casting covetous eyes at Old Trafford. With his two-year loan deal ending next summer, Tevez seems set for a lucrative transfer. It is a strange situation for an out-of-form reserve, but easier to explain with reference to his form last season. While £32 million may seem an excessive fee for a player consigned to the bench, there are reasons why Manchester United's No. 32 is in demand.

His first year at Old Trafford established Tevez as a footballer in the tradition of Mark Hughes and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a man who scored late goals and vital goals in equal measure. The quintessential player in Sir Alex Ferguson's teams has a hunger to complement his evident ability, and Tevez answers that description.

So the age-old question can be posed: where did it all go wrong? Dimitar Berbatov's arrival is the major factor, especially as his early weeks coincided with arguably the best goalscoring form of Wayne Rooney's career. Since the Bulgarian and the Englishman were united in attack for the first time at Chelsea on September 21st, Tevez's starts have only occurred in lesser matches or in the absence of one or the other. He has proved he can operate alongside Rooney - and Cristiano Ronaldo - but it appears a straight choice with the former, who, a seven-game drought notwithstanding, is still in the superior form.

Circumstances have conspired against Tevez. Rooney and Berbatov gelled rapidly, whereas the Argentine is yet to forge an understanding with the focal point of the United attack. Marked differences may enable each to complement the other, but at the moment they generate comparisons which are unfavourable.

He is the antithesis of Berbatov, whose glacial cool and economical movement lends him an air of purpose. Tevez, however, scuttled around with typical enthusiasm at Aston Villa on Saturday without accomplishing a great deal. In a match played at a ferocious speed, there was a vacancy for someone to slow the game down and adopt a more deliberate approach.

"Trying too hard," is the official diagnosis of Tevez's difficulties, though that is an accusation that could have been levelled at the striker after virtually every game of his career. It is an attitude that gives him an authenticity many of his peers lack. Tevez plays in the way supporters imagine they would, were they to have his talent.

Both West Ham and Manchester United fans have been quick to appreciate him. A sense of loyalty helps: Tevez's reaction to news of Real's interest was to profess his desire to stay at Old Trafford. That is the sensible option. In the European playground, Real continue to act like the child who wants it all, even if they are not quite sure why.

While the sidelined Ruud van Nistelrooy is their sole specialist leader of the line, Real possess a surfeit of players who - whether officially attacking midfielders or deep-lying strikers - operate in Tevez's sphere of influence. Given the frequent changes of management, long-term planning is scarcely their forte whereas continuity is a reason to choose United.

Yet it is a paradox that Tevez's finest recent display came under a rookie boss. Diego Maradona's management and Ferguson's appear to be the ridiculous and the sublime respectively, but he excelled for Argentina in Scotland last week. At Old Trafford, meanwhile, he could have benefited from more sympathetic handling.

Against Stoke, with United enjoying a comfortable lead and Tevez's need for a goal all too apparent, the Argentine was removed for Manucho. The late goals against a tiring and outclassed side came from Danny Welbeck and Ronaldo, rather the removed Tevez. It rather served to suggest that the next generation were overtaking him. In Villarreal, even with Berbatov absent, he was confined to a four-minute cameo.

And as Tevez spends an increasing amount of time in the dugout, the notion of a Fab Four - to replace last season's Holy Trinity after the addition of Berbatov - has rather disappeared. With the summer signing from Tottenham, Rooney and Ronaldo all secure in their status, he is very much the odd man out.

Tevez's spirit, however, suggests that situation is unlikely to be permanent. There are few out-of-form substitutes who merit a £32 million fee but in that, as in much else, he may be the exception.


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