Brief Encounters… Carlos Tevez at Shanghai Shenhua
01 January 2019
“He went there, filled up Santa’s sack with dollars, and came back to Boca. It was perfect”
Diego Maradona has a penchant for a quip, but this is one of his best. He was referring to Carlos Tévez’s ill-fated spell at Shanghai Shenhua FC.
On moving to China in December 2016, Tévez became the highest paid footballer in world football at the age of 33. He later described this period as like ‘being on holiday for seven months!’
The Argentinian arrived back to Boca Juniors with a healthy bank balance but a raft of well-deserved criticism.
“If you can’t play at 100%, then it is completely meaningless”
Heavy investment in China
In 2010, the Chinese Super League (CSL) was in a rut. The competition was hit by the biggest scandal in its history with cases on football gambling, match-fixing and corruption. Some of the most prominent officials in the country were arrested one after the next.
The CSL set about replenishing football’s reputation in China. What began was a rocky road of significant investment in foreign players which continues to this day.
In 2012, Shanghai Shenhua signed Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba in quick succession, along with other marquee names from Europe. Drogba fared slightly better but they left China with only 33 appearances between them.
Not deterred, Shanghai signed Carlos Tévez four years later. It started swimmingly, the Argentinian said, “It’s a love that I haven’t won yet, and I’d like to win it on the pitch. I know the CSL is getting tougher and tougher year after year, and this year will be extremely intense.”
Talk of a ‘new home’ quickly proved to be empty words. From the outset, rumours circulated that Tévez was already in discussions about a return to Boca. On his much-anticipated debut, Tevez failed to score as Shenhua crashed out of the Asian Champions League to Brisbane Roar. It prompted the Australian club to mock him on Twitter, “Carlos who?”
He was rarely seen at the training ground, spent days on the golf course in Buenos Aires, and even had time for a lavish four-day wedding back in his home country.
“It was going to hurt the fans no matter what I did”
The real turning point for fans came when the Chinese media revealed photos of him visiting Shanghai Disneyland with his family on matchday.
Coach Wu Jingui added fuel to the fire, saying the Argentinian was overweight and could not play until he was fit, “If you can’t play at 100%, then it is completely meaningless”.
Tévez’s refusal to play in a two-legged tie against arch rivals Shanghai SIPG was the final nail in his coffin. The striker was nonplussed about the criticism though, “I was not in a position to give 100 per cent, but it was going to hurt the fans no matter what I did”.
Tevez lamented that the CSL is far behind the standard in Europe and South America, “Technically they are not very good. Their football is very different. I don’t think they are going to get to the same heights, not even in 50 years.”
The highlights reel is a short one. The striker scored just four goals in 20 appearances for the club, and returned home after only seven months.
Tevez’s spell in China was an unmitigated disaster, but, as Maradona eloquently put it, he travelled back to his beloved Boca Juniors with a sack full of dollars. 41 million dollars, to be precise.