The votes are in, and have been counted. The trophies have all been decided now, and at most clubs, pre-season training for the new campaign is getting underway. But the question on everyone’s lips, of course, is: ‘Who has won the 2008 Hasta El Gol Siempre Award?’ ladies and gentlemen, wonder no longer. The voting this year was tighter than a nun’s proverbial, and the winner was victorious by a single vote. The best Argentine footballer plying his trade outside Argentina in the 2007-2008 season, according to the readers of this website, is…
Manchester United’s Carlos Alberto Tevez has beaten Sergio Agüero, of Atlético Madrid, by a single vote. 2007 winner Lionel Messi, of Barcelona, the only other nominee, picked up just one vote in the final round of voting to finish in third place.
When Carlitos made his Manchester United debut, on the 15th August 2007 against Portsmouth in the Premier League, parts of Buenos Aires came to a virtual standstill as shops closed and people stayed home across the city to follow, on TV, radio or any way possible, the player accepted more than any other modern-day footballer by Argentines as ‘one of their own’, as he made his debut for one of the biggest clubs in the land that gave the game to the world. In a country with as keen a knowledge of football history as Argentina, this was no mean honour.
In that match, Tevez set Paul Scholes up for a goal as United drew 1-1, and thankfully for United fans, he got off the mark himself a lot more quickly than he had the previous season for West Ham, scoring from a diving header on the 23rd September as United beat eventual Premier League and European Cup runners-up Chelsea 2-0 at Old Trafford. Having scored his first Old Trafford goal for West Ham on the last day of the previous season to keep his then club up, he set about paying back his new side, eventually hitting 19 goals in all competitions, fulfilling manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s November 2007 prediction that ‘he’ll score me 15 goals this season, and mark me, they’ll be important ones.’ Not just important, but vitally so.
In the second round Champions League tie against Olympique Lyonnais, United were trailing 1-0 away in the first leg before Tevez popped up at the far post deep into stoppage time to grab an equaliser which tilted the tie psychologically in the English club’s favour. In the following round, he scored the only goal of a one-sided second leg against Roma at Old Trafford to ensure United’s progress to the semi-final, 3-0 on aggregate. In the semi, although he didn’t score, he was man-of-the-match for many United fans in both legs, not least the first when, hamstrung by manager Ferguson’s oddly cautious decision to sit tight against a Barcelona side low on confidence, Tevez led the line and held the ball up superbly under difficult circumstances.
After missing a sitter in the final of the same competition against Chelsea, Tevez picked himself back up to score United’s first penalty in the shootout. When goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar saved Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka’s penalty, Carlitos became the first Argentine in history to have won both the Copa Libertadores and the European Cup / Champions League.
In a season when Cristiano Ronaldo’s record-breaking 41 goals have taken all the plaudits at United, Tevez and his strike partner Wayne Rooney have both had great seasons which have gone relatively unnoticed by comparison. For Tevez, ridiculously late equalisers away to Tottenham Hotspur and Blackburn Rovers seemed important at the time, but became absolutely critical later on in the title run-in. Reactions to the two foreign stars in the United trilogy have been most telling, though. Whilst many fans have become fed up with Ronaldo’s little-disguised desire to move to Real Madrid, they have expressed sincere hope that the club do their best to sign Tevez on a permanent deal from Kia Joorabchian’s consortium, as Liverpool eventually have done with Javier Mascherano. Scoring the winning goal against Liverpool at Anfield probably didn’t harm his cause either.
It’s these goals, and the United fans’ love for him, as much as his league and European Cup-winner’s medals, which seem to have swung the voting his way. Because whereas Sergio Agüero has dazzled and, alongside Diego Forlán, formed a strike partnership which Guardian and World Soccer columnist Sid Lowe has described as ‘the best in Atlético Madrid’s history’, dragging a famously underacheiving – cursed, even – club into Champions League qualification, Tevez has managed something which many feel is even more difficult.
As one of the readers (not, I feel the need to stress, a Manchester United fan) who voted for him put it, ‘How often do you see a player, regardless of his nationality, put the Old Trafford crowd in his pocket in his first season?’ How often, it might be added, does one hear a foreign crowd chanting ‘Ar-gen-tina! Ar-gen-tina!’ after a goal? And an English crowd, at that?
For bringing a touch of magic to the English league, and for being crowned champion of his second continent, Tevez has edged ahead of his rivals this year. For the variety of his goals alone – from the diving header against Chelsea to the goal line toe-poke against Lyon to the thirty yard exocet against former club West Ham on the penultimate day of league action – he merits his place on the podium. For having won the Old Trafford crowd over with his workrate and intelligence on the ball, he competes for the title. Perhaps Tevez’s greatest achievement of the season, though, is this: he plays for Manchester United, and he’s managed to make fans of other clubs in England actively like him. That really does take some doing.
Tevez’s official website, like Messi’s last year, were invited to comment on the award, but haven’t got back to me.
Hasta El Gol Siempre Award for Best Argentine Footballer in a Foreign League, 2007-2008: Carlos Tevez