- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In 2009, Carlos Tevez was hailed with a giant billboard reading: “Welcome to Manchester.”

Now, it could be time for a new poster of the Argentine star in the football-mad English city: “Good Riddance.”

Tevez broke a fundamental rule of sport _ that no individual is more important than his or her team _ when he sat moodily on the bench at a time of dire need for Manchester City, seemingly refusing to play on Tuesday night in the Champions League.

A millionaire striking. How pathetic and how distasteful at a time when so many less fortunate than Tevez are feeling the economic pinch.

If City manager Roberto Mancini is telling the whole truth here and Tevez really did mutiny, then football has witnessed a saddening new low.

Football clubs and managers have long complained that players and their agents are becoming too powerful, too unruly, as their wages _ and by extension their egos _ have grown ever bigger thanks to football’s bonanza of income from television, modern marketing and global popularity.

In Tevez’s apparent moment of madness in Germany, the sport and its fans saw just how far that balance of power has shifted. It also showed that the 2008 takeover of City by Abu Dhabi Sheik Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan isn’t a guarantee of success for the club. His vast wealth has brought an enviable collection of players. But money cannot buy the sort of team spirit that Alex Ferguson has spent 25 years nurturing cross-town at Manchester United _ where Tevez played before disregarding the city’s football divide by joining rival City.

City needed two goals to draw level with Bayern Munich in the Champions League. With 30 minutes to get them, Mancini called on Tevez, his top scorer last season.

At his rampaging best, the muscular, boxy Argentine can turn matches around with his penetrating runs on goal. Given how well Bayern were playing and how dispirited Mancini’s team looked, even Tevez might not have been able to rally City. But he is used to thriving in adversity. He grew up in a rough Buenos Aires neighborhood known as “Fort Apache.” He carries a childhood burn scar on his neck with some pride, refusing to hide it with plastic surgery. Because of his background, Tevez should be more aware than most how lucky he is to be so handsomely paid for kicking a ball. Besides, his teammates needed him.

But astoundingly, said Mancini, Tevez’s response when he called him was, “No.”

“He refused to do a warm-up again and he refused to go on the pitch,” the Italian said later, clearly fuming and shaken.

The reasons weren’t clear. Tevez disputed Mancini’s claim that he refused to play _ even though his crossed-arm body language on the bench suggested otherwise.

In a statement Wednesday, Tevez apologized to City fans for “any misunderstanding” and said: “I had warmed up and was ready to play. This is not the right time to get into specific details as to why this did not happen.”

Evidently, that wasn’t enough. Later in the day, Manchester City suspended Tevez “until further notice for a maximum period of two weeks” while it examines his conduct in Germany.

In hindsight, this was a crisis waiting to happen. Tevez has for months made clear that he wanted to leave City. Northern England in the dark of winter can be cold and damp and his wife, Vanesa, and their two young daughters struggled to adapt. But Tevez’s hoped-for move didn’t happen. In jumping from club to club over the years, scoring many goals but also making headlines for the wrong reasons along the way, Tevez has increased his market value and pay-packet so much that only the wealthiest teams like City can afford him.

This season, Mancini hasn’t used Tevez so often partly because, he said, he “is not ready to play.”

Mancini also has plenty of other players to choose from and keep happy by giving them time on the pitch, too. If that means Tevez must sit, so be it. As boss, Mancini is perfectly entitled to pick the team he feels is best for City. And Tevez can always while away the hours on City’s bench by dreaming about what he will do with all his cash, while remembering that there are bigger hardships in life.

France’s players disgusted their nation when they went on strike at the World Cup in South Africa last year. But that was in training. This was during an actual game, which makes Tevez’s apparent rebellion worse.

It is tempting to suggest, as former Liverpool star-turned-TV commentator Graeme Souness did, that Tevez’s apparent insubordination “epitomizes what the man in the street thinks is wrong with modern footballers.” In other words, spoiled and overindulged.

But that is not wholly fair on Tevez’s peers. There are plenty of other footballers who do not throw childish fits of petulance even if they have cause to be unhappy. Professionals like Manchester United striker Michael Owen, who rarely gets in a game these days but still scored twice when Ferguson put him in against Leeds in the League Cup, and midfielder Luka Modric, who seems ready again to give his all for Tottenham despite not getting his hoped-for move this August to Chelsea.

The Wayne Rooney saga last year also showed clubs and players can make up after a particularly unpleasant episode of brinkmanship. The Manchester United striker seemed on the verge of quitting but then accepted a nice new contract. This season, he’s knocking in goals as if he and United had been friends all along.

Mancini said in the heat of the moment Tuesday that he would never play Tevez again. “With me, he’s finished,” he said.

But Tevez’s statement that “there was some confusion on the bench and I believe my position may have been misunderstood” could offer a path for compromise. The Italian and the Argentine could blame language, not themselves.

Or City could sell Tevez at the next opportunity.

In which case he will have gotten his way, as millionaire footballers so often do.

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at twitter.com/johnleicester