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Jul 7, 2011

Can't live with him...

If it is a transfer window, it must be time for Carlos Tevez to publicly eye new pastures. If there is a sense of weary familiarity about this week's events at Manchester City, it is understandable. Tevez has become as high maintenance off the field as he is high energy on it, a player who can create as many problems for his own club as he invariably causes for opposition defenders.

While City strike a bullish pose, declaring that they want £50 million for their captain, the probability is that they will be both better and far worse off without him. An end to the repetitive sagas about the striker's future would be welcome along with a sense that the club is populated by players who actually want to be there.

In other respects, however, City are likely losers. Naming a price is one thing, commanding it another altogether. A lack of plausible destinations benefits neither. Nor, indeed, does City's wealth. By paying over the odds for players, they have created a situation where rivals aim to pay under the market value to entice arrivals from Eastlands. Others are sufficiently savvy to know the licence City's involvement grants them. Such situations can develop into games of brinkmanship where it is a case of who - buyer, seller or footballer - blinks first.

City may argue otherwise, but leaving Tevez to rot in the reserves is not an option. Indeed there are very few options available: not Manchester United, for instance, while AC Milan and Chelsea are well-stocked with strikers, Arsenal and Tottenham have wage structures and Barcelona little need for a player of even Tevez's calibre.

So, should Real Madrid or Inter Milan not stump up the fee desired, a cut-price deal or the sort of loan move that took Emmanuel Adebayor to the Bernabeu in January is feasible. If normal footballing logic dictates that the values of players who have excelled escalates, City are the exception to the rule. With UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules a worrying presence on the horizon, the quest to recoup money is progressing slowly. But it is one thing making a loss on a player considered deadwood (for some reason, Wayne Bridge's name comes to mind), another altogether to take such a hit on their top scorer and talisman.

Moreover, Tevez's importance makes him all but irreplaceable. It is not merely that, with 43 goals, the Argentine is the most prolific player in the Premier League in the last two years; it is the context. While he managed 20 last season, none of his team-mates mustered more than half a dozen. With four goals in three games against Chelsea, he has cemented a reputation for scoring big goals that was established at both Manchester United and West Ham. A more recent habit is of scoring the game's first goal, setting City en route to victory.

In any one-striker system, that individual assumes a disproportionate significance. It has been exacerbated at City by the contrast between Tevez and the alternatives. A self-sufficient forward with a sense of responsibility, an ability to hold the ball up and commit defenders, a tireless runner and regular scorer, his attributes are rare.

While City managed to win an FA Cup semi-final and some crucial league games in his absence, the forward line looked more patched up than permanent. Edin Dzeko has appeared ponderous, lacking the pace to chase through passes and thus open up space behind him for David Silva. Mario Balotelli's mercurial nature extends to his position: it is hard to call the Italian an out-and-out striker, given the wandering brief he normally adopts. Moreover, unlike Tevez, his goals invariably came against inferior opponents. The one forward City own who has displayed the pedigree and natural athleticism for the lone forward's role is Adebayor, but the sense is that his bridges have already been burned.

Outside Eastlands, the list of potential successors is surprisingly brief. That City's premier attacking targets were Alexis Sanchez and Neymar is a microcosm of the elite market: most of the major talents are attacking midfielders, wingers or second strikers, rather than men who prefer to lead the line. Most of the few who are natural occupants of a No. 9 shirt are contracted to the world's elite clubs; some have snubbed City in the past. Among the anomalies, Falcao may soon join the ranks of the super-rich and, if City cannot hijack Juventus' move for another Argentine, Sergio Aguero, he should be out of reach as well.

If Tevez wanted to stay, that would put him in a strong bargaining position. As he doesn't, the small man threatens to create a huge void in the City attack. A tendency to leave a trail of destruction in his wake has rendered them a more potent team, but it would make him a greater loss. Of Tevez, City may lament: can't live with him, can't live without him.

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