East End rolls out welcome mat for the 'wild man' of Argentina

Carlos Tevez has risen from a slum to become one of the most famous men in South America and he is bound to make more headlines. By Nick Harris
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The Independent Football

Carlos Tevez is short, stocky, scarred and rock hard, the product of a Buenos Aires slum who has risen to become not only his nation's most heralded young player but one of the most famous men in South America.

His sensational move to West Ham United, which the 22-year-old forward revealed to the world on his website yesterday, is not the first time he has dominated the headlines back home and around the world.

"He's a popular kid, never stops laughing," said a source in Argentina last night, explaining Tevez's local nickname, "Hyena". "But there is a streak of indiscipline in him that surfaces. Nothing malicious, he likes a good time, but he's not always in the papers for the right reasons."

On Thursday last week he went out for a night in Buenos Aires to do a spot of DJ-ing, one of his passions. His favourite music is cumbia, and his own speciality is described as being "hardcore salsa, with rap on top". He stayed out until dawn, and was pictured in the papers the next day. He should actually have been in training with his Brazilian club, Corinthians, but he shrugged that off, saying he knew he was already leaving and did not need to be there. Also last week, he was photographed socialising with a group of notorious Boca Juniors barras bravas, or hooligans.

Tevez has been compared to his great friend and fellow Boca alumnus, Diego Maradona, on and off the pitch, and has appeared regularly on Maradona's TV chat show. His fame at home now transcends football.

Javier Mascherano, who joins Tevez at West Ham, is also 22, but a contrasting figure. He is much quieter and less inclined towards the spotlight, but still immensely valuable to his clubs and country. A defensive midfielder, he started out at River Plate, who declined big-money offers, including from Real Madrid, as his reputation grew.

He moved to Corinthians for £10m last year, and like Tevez, had an excellent World Cup.

Tevez's sparky attitude has gained him more fans than detractors. When the Corinthians' coach, Emerson Leao, stripped Tevez of the captaincy "because no one can understand you" (a reference to the player's Spanish tongue in a country where Portuguese is spoken, rather than a comment on his brain power), it provoked sympathy, at least in Argentina.

In Brazil, Tevez has gradually become alienated. Last September, after saying he wanted to leave, he even wore a Manchester United shirt in a press conference. Subsequently he came under fire from Corinthians fans, leading on one occasion to supporters jeering him as he drove past, and kicking his tyres. That incident, say sources in Argentina, was the final straw that made him want to leave.

That he went there in the first place - traded for South America's record transfer, from Boca Juniors - was slightly bizarre. He had been a Boca idol from the age of 12, when Boca won a headline-grabbing tug-of-war with their great rivals, River Plate, for his signature.

"I was born to play football," he once said. "If I had not made it, I would be a scavenger like the hundreds you see on Buenos Aires' streets at night trying to make a living by rifling through the trash for cardboard, paper or anything they can sell for a few coins."

His childhood was tough, but he says it instilled in him the principles of respect, humility and sacrifice, all things he saw in his parents, Raimundo and Adriana, as they struggled to feed him and four younger siblings.

Now he wants for nothing, but still refuses plastic surgery for the massive scarring - from ear to chest - that he sustained as a baby when a kettle of boiling water fell on him. "It's part of who I am," he says.

Another part, the part that once prompted Bayern Munich to bid £9m for him as a teenager, and has attracted the likes of Milan and Manchester United, is his phenomenal skill. He won everything with Boca and was Argentina's Footballer of the Year in 2003 and 2004.

He first played in England, at Wembley, as a 15-year-old in an Under-16 international, but blazed to global prominence at the Athens Olympics, scoring eight goals in six games, including the winner in the final as Argentina won their first gold medal, in any sport, since 1952. They also beat Serbia & Montenegro 6-0 in the group stages, just as Argentina managed in this year's World Cup finals. Tevez scored in both games, having made the step up.

"It's like there's someone controlling him on the PlayStation," said one bamboozled Italy defender of Tevez's skills in Athens. One banner at the Olympics read: "Tevez, Por Vos Viaje a Grecia", (or "Tevez, I came to Greece for you").

Next stop Upton Park.

'Top talent': What Pardew wrote about Tevez in The Independent

"I saw in less than 10 minutes that Tevez can be a star for the next 10 years," Alan Pardew wrote in his World Cup column in The Independent on 24 June. 'He will be a top, top player. Tevez has an assurance about his ability. He's got good agility and looks like a striker who has every tool. He's a decent size too. He's more explosive than Lionel Messi. He's really a Maradona-type player. He has more goals in him than Lionel Messi and works higher up the pitch. Tevez will always be at the sharp end and I like that."