Just over three months away from the start of the World Cup, favourites to lift the trophy are already being identified. As is almost habitual, the Argentina national team is being mentioned as a strong candidate for glory in neighbouring Brazil.
Coach Alejandro Sabella has an enviable wealth of talent at his disposal. This is particularly true when taking into account the attacking force the ex-Estudiantes man can put onto the field. Led by the incomparable Lionel Messi, this forward line is equal to that of any team in the world.
There is, however, one notable absence. Carlos Tevez has never featured under Sabella and, barring an injury crisis or complete change of heart from the trainer, most likely will not be playing any part in Brazil 2014.
It is a bold move to leave out one of the world's finest strikers. It is even more valiant when he is in the form of his life.
Four Four Two's Adam Digby hits the nail on the head when comparing the forward to former Juve great Omar Sivori: "Tevez is a technically gifted player blessed with incredible touch, vision and an eye for goal rivalled by very few of his peers."
Carlitos, putting behind a successful yet explosive and controversial stint with Manchester City, has plundered 14 Serie A goals so far, placing him alongside Giuseppe Rossi as the top scorer in a notoriously miserly league. His contribution has further concreted Juve's place as Italy's finest side: The Turin titans lie nine points clear of Roma at the top, and with 60 goals for outscore nearest rivals Napoli by 10 strikes.
Add another six direct assists into the calculations for Tevez, and it is clear that while goals can appear from across the pitch in Juve, his contribution has been vital during his maiden season.
All of this begs the question: Should he be in the national team?
Despite all he has accomplished in Italy this season, the answer remains no. Sabella is an astute reader of personalities as well as tactics, valuing both as part of the modern game. His conclusion for both facets has been nothing if not consistent.
For the Argentina coach, both in terms of strategy and regarding his general impact on the squad, Tevez is more of a liability than an asset.
"I do not believe there will be any surprises", Sabella answered in a recent press conference, reported by Clarin, when interrogated by reporters over Tevez's form. While falling short of an overt rejection of the Juve star, the implications were clear. Having not figured in a single squad since the coach took over in 2011, a big shock inclusion is unlikely now.
First of all, it is highly debatable whether he merits a place in the Albiceleste starting line-up. He is blessed with outrageous talent; but given that this is Argentina, this does not guarantee him a space ahead of any of the habitual starters.
In terms of self-sacrifice, physical force and finishing, Tevez falls just short of Gonzalo Higuain on the right side of the trident. On the other side, he will find former Manchester City team-mate Sergio Aguero.
Those two forwards are similar both in stature, strengths and positional play. But again, whether we speak of quality with the ball at feet, movement when not in possession, understanding with team-mates or any other parameter, El Kun is the man who comes out on top.
That leaves, of course, one Lionel Messi. Tevez, nor indeed any player currently active in world football, can dream of matching the standards set by the little Rosario wizard. But it was the fantasy football ideals of both Diego Maradona and Sergio Batista which saw the "player of the people," as Carlitos has been dubbed ever since his beginnings in Boca Juniors, and the "world's best player," as the key to Argentine domination.
The pair never clicked on the field, however. There were great moments, but Diego Maradona and Gabriel Batistuta eventually clashed with one unwelcome reality. To put it simply, and to paraphrase an old cliche from western movies, the Argentina team was not big enough for the both of them.
Messi has always been at his best in a team built around him, with the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta supporting him going forward but always in a secondary role. Tevez has become accustomed to much of the same treatment in his career. Neither of the two are prima donnas, but each functions at full capacity when they are the centre of attention on the field.
The compromise of playing both stars directly contributed to their, and Argentina's, lukewarm performances in both the 2010 World Cup and the Copa America one year later. It is no coincidence whatsoever that the last two-and-a-half years, without Tevez, have been Messi's best ever for the national team.
In the first XI, then, there is no room for Tevez without Messi standing down. But surely he would make a brilliant impact substitute, correct? The jury is out there too.
Sabella is simply not willing to take the risk of having a potentially disruptive element in his squad. Perhaps Tevez would be happy to knuckle down and play the role of the first man off the bench. But his history condemns him. No coach will forget the debacle for Manchester City when he allegedly refused to enter a Champions League game, as reported by the BBC.
His reputation as a team player took a great hit with that episode, followed by an extended exile in Argentina which did not help matters. As Digby also admits, "His career to date shows Tevez can infuriate and inspire team-mates and coaches in equal measure, capable of being brilliant one moment but imploding the next." This is why Tevez will not be travelling to Brazil in any capacity.
He is a spectacular footballer to watch, and the World Cup may well be poorer for his absence. But Sabella is looking to build a squad that will support itself no matter what happens; not guaranteed a place in the first-team, Tevez is simply not the reliable man Argentina can turn to in a crisis.
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