Tevez says Copa Libertadores final win with Boca Juniors will be ‘most important’
▶ Team Wellington midfielder tells John McAuley he can’t wait to potentially face big teams such as Real Madrid
Boca Juniors striker Carlos Tevez has spent much of his career winding people up, but victory in this weekend’s Copa Libertadores final could be all about winding down for the well-travelled Argentine.
Tevez, 34, had previously vowed to retire sometime next year but a win in Sunday’s South American club showdown against fellow Buenos Aires arch-rivals River Plate could signal the perfect farewell for the lifelong Boca fan.
“I don’t think there would be anything left to win. That’s what I want and the dream would be realised,” Tevez said this year of a possible Libertadores triumph. “This is without doubt the most important final of my career,” he added days before the rescheduled second leg at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
With the first leg a thrilling 2-2 draw, the second game was postponed last month after the Boca team bus was attacked and players injured as it approached River’s Monumental stadium in the capital.
Hanging up his boots after a second Libertadores triumph would give Tevez’s career perfect symmetry.
The diminutive but pugnacious striker won the Libertadores with Boca in 2003, then aged just 19 and playing alongside Guillermo Barros Schelotto, now Boca manager. Since then he has enjoyed a peripatetic life packed with titles and controversies.
He moved to Corinthians in 2005 then left the Brazilian giants for West Ham United in a move that was questioned in English courts for the way it was structured.
His goals and committed performances there won him big money transfers, first to Manchester United then to Manchester City in a daring cross-city move that irked Alex Ferguson and had Tevez winding up the Red side of the city.
But after falling out with City manager Roberto Mancini – in one notorious incident he was accused of refusing to go on as a substitute – he moved to Juventus and then Shanghai Shenhua.
When Tevez came back to Boca at the start of this year, 50,000 fans turned up at the Bombonera stadium to welcome him home.
The return to his boyhood favourites has been bittersweet: Boca won the Argentine first division in August and are just 90 minutes away from a record-equalling seventh Libertadores title.
Tevez, however, has played a limited role in the campaigns, and it is a sign of his maturity that he has accepted it with grace.
He started only four of Boca’s 13 Libertadores games this
season but has appeared in nine altogether, scoring three goals. Most of all, though, he has proven to be the soul of the team and spokesman for the players.
When Boca’s manager was attacked outside the Monumental before the scheduled second leg, it was Tevez who acted as the team mouthpiece and lobbied for the game to be cancelled.
He is unlikely to start on Sunday but no one would bet against him playing a part at some stage, as he did in the first leg when he came on with 17 minutes remaining and almost led his side to an injury-time winner.
“I dream of making the people happy,” Tevez said.
“I keep dreaming, because if I didn’t, I would be at home with my family.”
Should Boca win, they will head to the UAE for the Fifa Club World Cup and Tevez may delay his decision further to play teams such as Real Madrid. Meanwhile, Boca trained in Madrid for the first time on Thursday shortly after River Plate landed in Spain.
After arriving on Wednesday, Boca’s players looked in good spirits during a light session at Las Rozas, the Spanish national team’s training base in the north-west of the capital, on Thursday morning.
More Club World Cup,
Back in Argentina in 2000, not long after his 11th birthday, Mario Barcia watched on television with his father as Boca Juniors defeated Real Madrid in the Intercontinental Cup to record a famous victory.
Now, Barcia could play against both in the UAE. In the space of four days.
“Yeah it’s just a dream,” he says by telephone from New Zealand, shortly before his Team Wellington set off for the Emirates ahead of Wednesday’s 2018 Fifa Club World Cup opener against Al Ain.
“Every night I’m going to sleep I’m dreaming of everything: what’s going to happen, dreaming about playing with the biggest teams in the world.
“It’s such a great feeling; amazing. It’s something I’ve been looking to do for the past few years.”
Maybe much longer. Barcia’s route to the Club World Cup, the rebranded Intercontinental Cup, has been anything but conventional.
A talented midfielder with ambitions of making it in professional football, he left his home in Santiago del Estero to the north of Argentina at age 12, joining Newell’s Old Boys the year after Lionel Messi had departed for Barcelona.
He spent time playing in the Bolivian first division, then in the Argentine second tier, before a compatriot coach emailed to say he had seen videos of Barcia on YouTube, and invited the player to join him in New Zealand.
So Barcia left home again, without friends or family, armed with only his suitcase.
His English non-existent, he lived in hostels to learn the language, mixing with Europeans, reading newspapers, watching movies with subtitles. Pop music helped speed the process.
Five years later, and now fluent, Barcia reflects on a journey he hopes concludes with a dream tie against a true heavyweight in the UAE.
“Yeah, it’s been tough,” he says. “At the start it was really difficult. But Team Wellington are amazing, such a great club, so I’m so happy with my decision. And here I am.”
He’s certainly arrived. In a few days, Wellington take on UAE champions Al Ain at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, where both clubs make their Club World Cup debut.
The winner goes on to face Tunisia’s Esperance de Tunis, the freshly minted African champions, in the quarter-finals, before a potential last-four clash against whoever prevails in Sunday’s rescheduled second leg of the Copa Libertadores final.
Either Boca Juniors or River Plate await. For an Argentine with a Boca-mad father, it’s pretty tantalising.
“For us, as Argentinians, the whole Club World Cup means a lot,” Barcia says.
“For every single team in Argentina, the Club World Cup is really important.
“And for me, being Argentinian, all I want is to play against an Argentinian team.
“And I’m working really hard to play against one of the best teams in Argentina. It could be Boca Juniors or River, but it doesn’t matter to me – I’d just love to play against one. But before that we have to win two games. I’m very sure and confident we can do that.”
Still, it would represent quite the feat. Wellington are semi-professional, with the majority of their players working part-time jobs to help fund their football. For instance, Barcia coaches football to children now, but at various times worked on a building site, and for a removal company.
Wellington booked a first appearance at the Club World Cup by defeating Fiji’s Lautoka 10-3 on aggregate the Oceania Champions League final in May. Runners-up the previous three years – they lost each time to domestic rivals Auckland City – but finally they had made it.
And, although Barcia maintains Al Ain form the focus – he researched early by watching their matches on YouTube and cites Sweden striker Marcus Berg as his side’s main threat – Auckland’s barely believable run to the 2014 Club World Cup semi-final provides real optimism. “It’s possible,” Barcia says.
“Today in football, as you’ve seen in Spain or in England, any team can beat any team. It’s possible we can make some history. You just need to work really hard for it, and just believe in your team and in yourself that you can do it.
“At the end of the day, on the field it’s 11 against 11. Anything can happen... anything. We’re in a great position, but Al Ain is all we’re looking at. It’s the game we have to win, and I’m pretty confident we can beat them. We’ll be doing everything to do that. So let’s see what we can achieve.” And, then, who knows? Maybe his Dad will be getting up even earlier again back home in Argentina, just like he did in 2000, when Martin Palmero scored twice against Madrid and Juan Roman Riquelme, one of Barcia’s favourite players, “was just having fun on the pitch”.
After all, he’s allowed to dream. “If you said when I was a kid watching the same tournament that I would be playing, I wouldn’t believe it.
“Now I can’t believe it. Sometimes I think ‘ah, I’m going to the World Cup’, but I don’t believe it. I can’t wait. I really can’t wait.”
If Carlos Tevez and Boca Juniors win Copa Libertadores, they will head to the UAE to play in the Club World Cup
Mario Barcia and Team Wellington celebrate after he scored in Oceania Champions League final’s first leg against Fiji’s Lautoka in May