By Ramiro Scandalo and Andrew Downie
BUENOSAIRES (Reuters) – Boca Juniors striker Carlos Tevez has spent much of his career winding people up, but victory in this weekend’s Copa Libertadores final could be all about winding down for the well-travelled Argentine.
Tevez, 34, had previously vowed to retire sometime next year but a win in Sunday’s South American club showdown against fellow Buenos Aires arch rivals River Plate could signal the perfect farewell for the lifelong Boca fan.
“I don’t think there would be anything left to win. That’s what I want and the dream would be realized,” Tevez said earlier this year of a possible Libertadores triumph.
“This is without doubt the most important final of my career,” he added days before the rescheduled second leg at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
With the first leg a thrilling 2-2 draw, the second game was postponed last month after the Boca team bus was attacked and players injured as it approached River’s Monumental stadium in the Argentine capital.
Hanging up his boots after a second Libertadores triumph would give Tevez’s illustrious career perfect symmetry.
The diminutive but pugnacious striker won the Libertadores with Boca in 2003, then aged just 19 and playing alongside Guillermo Barros Schelotto, now Boca’s coach.
Since then he has enjoyed a peripatetic life packed with titles and controversies.
He moved to Corinthians in 2005 then left the Brazilian giants for West Ham in a move that was questioned in English courts for the way it was structured.
His goals and committed performances there won him big money transfers, first to Manchester United then to Manchester City in a daring cross-city move that irked Sir Alex Ferguson and had Tevez winding up the Red side of the city.
But after falling out with City coach Roberto Mancini – in one notorious incident he was accused of refusing to go on as a substitute – he moved to Juventus and then Shanghai Shenhua.
When Tevez came back to Boca at the start of this year, 50,000 fans turned up at the Bombonera stadium to welcome him home.
The return to his boyhood favourites has been bitter-sweet: Boca won the Argentine first division in August and are just 90 minutes away from a record-equalling seventh Libertadores title.
Tevez, however, has played a limited role in the campaigns, and it is a sign of his maturity that he has accepted it with grace.
He started only four of Boca’s 13 Libertadores games this season but has appeared in nine altogether, scoring three goals.
Most of all, though, he has proven to be the soul of the team and spokesman for the players.
When Boca’s coach was attacked outside the Monumental before the scheduled second leg, it was Tevez who acted as the team mouthpiece and lobbied for the game to be cancelled.
He is unlikely to start on Sunday but no one would bet against him playing a part at some stage, as he did in the first leg when he came on with 17 minutes remaining and almost led his side to an injury time winner.
“I dream of making the people happy,” Tevez said.
“I keep dreaming, because if I didn’t, I would be at home with my family.”
(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)