It is hard to think of any Premier League manager having to deal with the kind of twin sideshows that Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has endured in the form of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli this season. It is surely enough to make the Citizens manager more cautious than ever when next venturing into the transfer market for a striker. With Balotelli serving a suspension for his reckless challenge on Arsenal’s Alex Song, it was Tevez’s turn to hog the spotlight at the weekend. For once, it gave Mancini something to smile about.
The Argentine’s hat-trick in the 6-1 rout at Norwich City showcased Tevez at his best, smashing in a spectacular strike from distance and causing panic in the Canaries’ defence all afternoon. Work-rate, attitude, finishing – there could be no complaints. He even brought an apology with him to East Anglia after going AWOL for three months earlier in the campaign.
"I want to say thank you to my colleagues for all the support they have given me since I arrived", explained Tevez, who also refused to concede that Manchester United had the title race sewn up.
"We can still win the title. Obviously we have to put pressure on United. We just need to continue to play the way we are and we will arrive at the top. Mathematically it’s not impossible."
But as Tevez uttered these words, the question that loomed large was: wouldn’t Manchester City have clinched the title by now if the Argentine had been available for the full campaign? Tevez’s ability as a match-winner would surely have been an asset for Mancini, particularly in recent months as his team laboured to draws against Stoke and Sunderland and stumbled to losses at Everton, Swansea and Arsenal. A five-point lead at the top of the table quickly became a five-point deficit as neighbours Manchester United cashed in.
With Bosnian hitman Edin Dzeko looking a shadow of the man that began the season on fire, Sergio Aguero suffering a dip in form and Balotelli in self-destructive mode, Tevez could have picked up the slack had he and his manager been able to bury the hatchet sooner. But regardless of where the finger is pointed, it was a crippling blow for the Citizens. And the silky interplay between Tevez and Aguero at Carrow Road confirmed just how deadly that pairing could have been all season long.
Manchester City fans, however, should contain their excitement – because Tevez’s uncertain future continues to cast a shadow over plans at the Etihad Stadium. While the striker appears to have won over the dressing room again, Mancini had no answer when asked about whether the Argentine would be in a sky blue shirt again for the 2012/13 season.
"I don’t know – I don’t know this”, the Italian said. "It depends. Now I think it is important that we think about the next four games. After that, at the end of the season, we will see what can happen with all the players."
When Tevez plays like he did at Carrow Road, it is easy to forget that he was at the centre of such a draining saga. But that fallout lingers in the background, with the Argentine’s return perhaps as much as anything a sign of how desperate Manchester City have become in their attempt to gain ground on Manchester United.
Fresh offers for Tevez will come Mancini’s way this summer, with AC Milan expected to be the number one suitors, while Paris Saint-Germain could also return to the negotiating table – and the club’s resolve will once again be tested. Do Manchester City gamble that the worst is over and Tevez can be a key part of their future – or do they cash in on the Argentine before his value drops further?
It is a tough dilemma that will need some thought. Tevez the player remains a valuable cog, but it is the whole package that should be weighed up. In the meantime, the Citizens are crossing their fingers for a slip up from a Manchester United squad that has had no such drama in their dressing room. When it is all said and done, the Tevez truce may have been too little, too late.