Fans of South American football and/or the Football Manager series uttered sheer disbelief when West Ham United completed a double swoop for Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano on transfer deadline day of 2006. With a grin that would make the Cheshire Cat look miserable, Hammers manager Alan Pardew stood between the bemused-looking Argentine pair as they held the claret and blue shirts aloft at the Upton Park unveiling.
The duo had built up quite a reputation during their time in their native South America after starting their careers on either side of Buenos Aires’ Superclasico divide. Mascherano’s debut with River Plate came in 2003, and in two years he clocked up more than 70 appearances, helping his team win the 2003/04 clausura. Tevez, the darling of La Bombonera, made his debut as a 16-year-old and scored 38 goals in 110 appearances as Boca Juniors conquered the world by winning the domestic league, Copa Libertadores, and Intercontinental Cup in 2003.
In 2005 the pair linked up at Brazilian club Corinthians, with whom they won the Brazilian championship. In the same year, Tevez was named as South American Footballer of the Year for the third consecutive season, making him only the second person to achieve this feat.
So, how did they end up at West Ham? In 2006 the duo was owned Media Sports Investment, a company headed by Iranian-born businessman Kia Joorabchian. It was the link with this third party that put many clubs off, who would no doubt have otherwise welcomed Tevez and Mascherano with open arms if it were based on ability alone. The Upton Park club seemed non-plussed by this issue, proudly proclaiming: “The transfers represent a massive coup for the Hammers, who have beaten off some of Europe’s biggest clubs to secure the services of the duo.”
West Ham started the 2006/07 season full of hope after finishing the previous campaign in ninth and qualifying for the UEFA Cup by virtue of finishing as FA Cup runners-up. However, by Christmas promise had turned to dust as Pardew lost his job with the Hammers sat in the relegation zone. Fans became suspicious of “the Argentineans,” and although Tevez failed to score in his first 19 outings, the malaise ran far deeper than just two players.
Alan Curbishley replaced Pardew and it was hoped the fresh impetus that usually accompanies a managerial change would spark an underperforming squad into life. Mascherano, after just five league appearances, was loaned to Liverpool in the January window and wouldn’t represent West Ham again, although Tevez would remain for the rest of the campaign. West Ham’s fortunes did improve in the New Year, as they finished the season with 21 points from an available 27. On an individual note Tevez came alive, scoring seven goals in the last ten games.
West Ham travelled to Old Trafford on the final day of the season knowing that a point would guarantee survival, but that a defeat and a Wigan victory elsewhere would consign them to the second tier. Manchester United had already wrapped up the title at the expense of Chelsea, so the Hammers banked on a party atmosphere at home of the champions. West Ham managed to pull off the upset, winning 1-0 courtesy of a Tevez goal, and retained their Premier League status as a result.
West Ham’s smug proclamation that they had beaten a raft of other clubs to the signatures of Tevez and Mascherano eventually came back to haunt them, as it transpired that the signings had broken Premier League rules regarding third-party ownership. Neil Warnock, manager of relegated Sheffield United, was more apoplectic with rage than usual in claiming that his club would’ve beaten the drop had it not been for the illegal transfer of Tevez in particular. Other clubs, most notably Wigan Athletic, joined Sheffield United in slamming the conduct of the Hammers. West Ham were fined a record £5.5 million although bizarrely avoided a points deduction, with the reason being that due to the new ownership and management of the club it was unfair to punish them for mistakes made by the old regime.
Mascherano’s loan move to Liverpool was eventually made permanent, and it was at Anfield that he began to show his undoubted promise in European football. Starting the season in shambolic style at Upton Park, he finished it by representing Liverpool and producing a man-of-the-match performance as a losing finalist in the Champions League. Mascherano remained at Anfield for the subsequent three years, and although the Anfield club failed to win a trophy during his time he is fondly remembered on Merseyside. After three-and-a-half years in which he proved to be a more-than-capable, if ill-disciplined, player in the English context, Mascherano joined Barcelona where he remains to this day.
Following his goal at Old Trafford, Tevez left West Ham to link up with Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson in a two-year loan deal. The season would prove memorable for the Red Devils, as they won their third European Cup after beating Chelsea on penalties on a rain-soaked night in Moscow. Tevez was part of a breathtaking attacking triumvirate that included Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, who between them scored 79 goals in all competitions in the 2007/08 season. Tevez scored on the penultimate day of the season at Upton Park in a victory over his old club, edging his new employers closer to a league title that was subsequently sealed on the last day of the season. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Tevez also stepped up and converted the first penalty in the Moscow shoot-out.
Tevez’s second season at Old Trafford would ultimately prove to be his last, although it was to be a successful one once again. United won the League Cup after beating Spurs in yet another shootout, with Tevez once again converting his kick. United retained the league title and picked up the FIFA Club World Cup after beating Japanese side Gamba Osaka and Ecuadorian’s LDU Quito along the way. On a personal note, Tevez’s performance dipped slightly, although he still managed 15 goals in 34 appearances, half of which came from the bench.
Despite the successful partnership between Tevez and United in the preceding two years, towards the end of the loan deal the waters became somewhat muddied. Tevez was annoyed at spending most of the season on the bench, as well as the lack of a permanent contract offer on the table. Detractors labelled him greedy for agitating for a move, and although the club insisted it was keen for the Argentine to stay and that a contract was eventually forthcoming it was deemed too late. Tevez was on the move, across town to rivals Manchester City.
Newly rich City, bought the previous summer by billionaire Sheik Mansour, were delighted with the coup, and attempted to wind up their neighbours by plastering the Argentine’s face on a “Welcome to Manchester” billboard in the city centre. In a four-year spell at the Etihad Tevez scored 73 in 148, almost one goal per every two games, helping the club to their first FA Cup in 42 years and first league title in 44. As he had done at West Ham, Tevez drove the team to new levels and proved talismanic at times with his insatiable will to win.
His spell on the blue side of Manchester was not without its controversies, however. In December 2010, only four months after being made club captain, he handed in a transfer request. Despite his best efforts to leave, he started the 2011/12 season wearing City’s colours although manager Roberto Mancini, not one to shy away from conflict himself, permanently stripped Tevez of the armband just a month into the season. Less than three weeks after his demotion it is alleged that Tevez refused – a claim he denies – to come off the substitute’s bench in a game away to Bayern Munich.
Tevez moved to Juventus in the summer of 2013, scoring 50 goals as the Old Lady continued to dominate Italian football by winning two league titles and a Coppa Italia. A dream move back to boyhood club Boca Juniors followed, although Tevez is currently playing in China as part of an ill-fated yet lucrative move that hasn’t really worked for anyone involved. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back at Boca before long.
The signings by West Ham of Tevez and Mascherano turned many heads in 2006 based on the reputation they carried and the surprise that the Upton Park outfit were able to pull off such a coup, the reasons for which would later become clearer. Despite his move to Liverpool shortly after Mascherano’s career in English football pales in comparison to what he’s achieved in Spain with Barcelona. However, he is fondly remembered on Merseyside.
Although he only spent a season at West Ham Tevez is popular with Hammers fans for coming alive in the second half of the season and effectively keeping them up with his late form. Tevez scored 100 goals during his time in Manchester and became the first City player to score 50 in the Premier League era. Despite a combined nine trophies in six years in Manchester Tevez provokes a mixed reaction among fans because his goals and never-say-die performances were often accompanied by controversy and greed. Whether it is for the right or wrong reasons one thing is for sure: his spell in English football will be remembered.
Part Three of this series will feature Mauricio Taricco