East London delight at the arrival in their midst of a pair of Argentinian galacticos, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, rapidly supplanted by unease at the news of a looming takeover bid for West Ham United with Russian involvement (cue "Hammer and Sickle" headlines) suffered another setback about the whole project's true intentions when Tevez intimated that he will spent just one season with Alan Pardew's Premiership club. Cue "Hammer and Sick" headlines.
Speaking, albeit through an interpreter, for the first time yesterday, rather than via PR-manufactured quotes, Tevez claimed: "West Ham was the best solution for me. Many teams were interested but they had a lot of players in my position already. What I need is to play regularly to get to know English football, and to see for the first year."
Having let slip the one-year intention, Tevez, questioned ahead of this afternoon's inter-national between Argentina and Brazil at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, hastened to add: "There is no particular club I am thinking about going to afterwards." He also contradicted stories that he and Mascherano had been anxious to get away from their previous club, the Brazilian team Corinthians. "I didn't want to leave Corinthians," he said. "The reason we left was that promises were made and not respected. "We regretted it because we enjoyed working with the people there. But the directors did not respect agreements made."
The contracts of Tevez and Mascherano are held by an Iranian-born businessman, Kia Joorabchian, the former head of Media Sports Investments (MSI), the company who took over Corinthians in return for wiping out the club's debts. Joorabchian, who is leading what are described as "exploratory discussions" about the West Ham takeover, has now resigned as MSI's boss, but in effect owns Tevez and Mascherano, and stands to profit vastly if they are sold on to a bigger club next season.
At Corinthians, MSI installed a four-man board, two from the club and two from MSI, with Joorabchian holding the casting vote in case of deadlock. All but five of the playing squad were owned by MSI rather than the club. That such an arrange-ment was unsettling is shown by the fact that Corinthians got through seven managers in 18 months.
That Corinthians themselves were generally the last ones to know what was going on was shown when the club website, announcing the departure of Tevez and Mascherano, said that they had signed for Manchester United for £7.5m and £11.75m respectively.
All of this is not only light years distant from the signings of Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa which kickstarted the influx of foreign footballers in 1978, but deeply puzzling to Keith Burkinshaw, the man who brought those two Argentinians to Tottenham Hotspur when he was manager. "It baffles me why nothing can be talked about the West Ham signings," said Burkinshaw, now 71 but still active as assistant manager to Adrian Boothroyd at Watford. "How much they cost, how long their contracts are for. There is something wrong with football, surely, when people rather than clubs own players nowadays. That can't be right."
Burkinshaw predicts that West Ham's new duo will have a hard time settling (despite Tevez's vision of the Premiership, spelled out yesterday, as "very quick, very pretty, very elegant"), though he feels it is good that they have arrived as a pair, just as Ardiles and Villa did a couple of months after Argentina had won the 1978 World Cup on home territory.
This modest, talented Yorkshireman, acknowledged as the best manager Spurs have had since Bill Nicholson's days, admits there was a stroke of fortune about the signings which transformed the fortunes of Tottenham. He had watched the World Cup on TV, rather than travel to Argentina, but sat up in a hurry when he was contacted soon afterwards by an old friend, Harry Haslam, then the manager of Sheffield United.
"Harry knew people in Argen-tina because his assistant at Bramall Lane was Argentinian," said Burkinshaw. "Because Harry couldn't afford it himself, he rang me to ask if I was interested in Ardiles. Of course I was, he had just been voted Outstanding Player of the World Cup. 'I know for a fact he is available if you fancy going over there', Harry told me. I was very lucky, he could have phoned anybody, but I knew him well.
"I thought it was very unlikely I would get Ardiles but was determined to try, even if there was only a 20 per cent chance. So I went to Buenos Aires, and it was the easiest thing, as it turned out. With Ossie it took only two or three minutes, and when he asked me, 'Would you also like to sign my friend Ricky Villa?' that was sealed in a couple of minutes as well."
The two stars of the 1978 World Cup cost Spurs £320,000 each. "All I had to do in those days was speak to my chairman and make sure there was enough money in the bank to pay for them," said Burkinshaw. "At Tottenham we always worked in the black rather than the red, a bit different from what goes on now. The chairman came back to me 20 minutes later and said, 'Get on with it'. I didn't regard it as a gamble. I might have been a bit naïve, but it didn't worry me that they had never been in an environment like England. But it was a great success. I was lucky with them. They were good characters, I didn't have any problem with behaviour. They were better behaved than the English lads, they weren't drinkers, they were family orientated. I made other good signings, but in terms of changing things around those two were vital. They made us into a world-class team.
"I was delighted. There hadn't been that type of player in English football before, that's what took everybody by surprise. A lot of people said they wouldn't last two months. I remember Tommy Docherty forecasting that as soon as they saw snow they would be off. But we played at Bristol City on a frozen pitch like an ice rink, and Ricky stood up better than anybody else. But it won't be easy for West Ham's new lads, because it wasn't easy for Ossie and Ricky at first. It took them about 18 months to sort themselves out."
Having pioneered a sea change in the English game, Burkinshaw was then involved in another when Tottenham were taken over by Paul Bobroff and Irving Scholar, who turned the club into a public company. Upset at what he saw as the undermining of his authority, Burkinshaw resigned, departing with the classic comment, "There used to be a football club over there". West Ham United will do well to bear those words in mind over the coming months.
THE TEVEZ FILE
CULTURE CLASH: The food, the weather, his lack of English, or even Cockney; yes, life at the Boleyn Ground will be very different. But perhaps the most fundamental cultural adjustment for Carlos Tevez will be getting used to having the same manager for more than a few months. West Ham have made do with just 10 in over a century; his previous club in Brazil, Corinthians, have got through seven since 2004.
BETTING FOR A PLACE: The bookies seem unconvinced about the length of Tevez's stay with West Ham. Ladbrokes are already offering a skinny 2-1 against him starting next season at Chelsea, and 5-1 against him staying put.
STREETWISE SIGNING: The East End should hold no fears for a man known as "Apache" after being raised in a tough district of Buenos Aires know as Fuerte (Fort) Apache. West Ham must hope MSI don't turn out to be Indian givers.
FACE THE FACTS: Tevez's penchant for sticking his tongue out and gurning when under pressure has led to conjecture that he is really comedian Lee Evans, looking for pastures new after showbiz went a bit quiet on him. Seems unlikely, but then we've never seen them in the same room together...
VOCAL SUPPORT: Tevez's hobbies include DJ-ing and singing with a salsa-style band called Los Vagos Tiolas, which translates as The Clever Lazy Ones. Perhaps when he plays Newcastle he could team up with the trumpet-playing South American Nolberto Solano; but maybe after his move he feels he's got quite enough brass already.
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