Carlos Tevez failed to offer an explanation of his unauthorised absence in Argentina yesterday and played right into Roberto Mancini's hands by giving the manager every reason not to allow him to wear the Manchester City shirt on a field of play again.
The striker has missed as many as four training sessions, having reported in with injuries, since he was told he would be forced to work with the reserves last month. His failure to come anywhere near the level of Premier League match fitness, compounded by this week's disappearance to Buenos Aires, has left City increasingly confident that Mancini will be within his rights to make good on his promise that the player is "finished" at the club.
City had been deeply concerned by Article 15 of Fifa's regulations, which would entitle the player to terminate his contract next summer if he has not been given adequate playing time. The club had briefed the manager on the regulation – which could lead to a challenge from the former captain at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – and told him that he might have to give Tevez the equivalent of 10 per cent of the side's game time this season, effectively four full games.
But if Tevez remains at the club beyond January and continues his recalcitrance, City would argue in the strongest terms possible at CAS that he is not in the right physical state to be given that game time. How he can have sustained new injuries preventing him maintaining a personal fitness regime is particularly baffling, considering that the demands of him in training are extremely limited.
There is little doubt that Mancini would be delighted to make good on his initial pledge that Tevez's City days were over, made in the aftermath of the club's Champions League match against Bayern Munich in September and the dispute over the player's role as a substitute. Though last week the manager held out the prospect of Tevez playing again if he said sorry, it was not an olive branch. Mancini was just seeking a way through a mess.
Tevez may have located one for him. Fifa regulations governing the Status and Transfer of Players stipulate that the striker is entitled to terminate his contract under "sporting just cause" if he is effectively left to rot on the sidelines. But legal opinion yesterday supported City's view that Tevez's conduct may allow them to challenge his use of that clause.
There was also evidence yesterday of the way that Tevez's conduct may be contributing to disharmony between the club and other players. It is understood that at least two of the small group of reserves the Argentine has been training with – Nedum Ohuoha and Wayne Bridge – were under the impression that they had been granted all of this week off. Ohuoha quickly booked a holiday and Bridge was also preparing not train. But City's coaching staff then indicated that the break which had been allocated to first-team players not on international duty did not include the reserves. Ohuoha and Bridge feel that the latest Tevez saga has contributed to their being kept back at Carrington.
Daniel Geey, a solicitor at Field Fisher Waterhouse, said yesterday that players invoking Article 15 are considered on a case-by-case basis and that a player's individual circumstances do form an important part of proceedings. "City could not say for certain that circumstances such as these would weigh for or against them when an Article 15 assessment is made," Mr Geey said. "But it would be something that they could use."
Tevez's representatives made no comment last night.