Carlos Tevez has given the first in-depth insight into his difficult relationship with the Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, providing details of how the two of them needed to "clear the air" five months ago, but also insisting that he stands by his criticism of the Italian's tough training regime last season, and casting doubt on the wisdom of the club's decision to send Craig Bellamy out on loan.
Speaking candidly to the press, he also provided an indication that it was his surprise at being elevated to club captain that has helped their relationship thaw as City launch another assault on the Premier League elite.
The arrival of Chelsea at Eastlands this lunchtime brings Tevez up against a manager whom the Argentine also revealed he met in the summer of 2009 to discuss a move from Old Trafford to Stamford Bridge. "I had a conversation with Carlo Ancelotti, a chat," Tevez said. "But to be truthful, there was never any concrete offer and I only ever talk about proper, written offers that arrive."
His move instead to City came five months before Mark Hughes was dismissed – a decision Tevez later questioned – setting in train a relationship with Mancini which has been vexed at times. Tevez queried the Italian's double training sessions five months ago, insisting that City players were "not happy" with them. Though the two have clearly reached an accommodation since their talks, which came the day after City's defeat to Tottenham last May in what was effectively a Champions League qualifier, Tevez evidently does not regret asking why he was being asked to train morning and afternoon, and suggests that the tension has only been calmed by City's recent midweek games, which have often caused the double training sessions to be cancelled.
"We had a chat at the end of the season and cleared the air," Tevez said. "We didn't have to thrash out anything in particular. It was just the case of two guys sitting down and having a chat. We were open and honest and that sorted it. But it's not a case of admitting that you are ever wrong, as I still think at the time I was right to say that [about the training]. This [season] the games are so regular that there isn't time for that issue of double-session training to arise. I still stand by what I said."
In a separate interview yesterday, Mancini made his own comments about inheriting City players "whose only target is their day off" and who "only want to work in the morning", manager and captain are clearly still having to agree to differ. But Mancini drew the line yesterday at the comments of City's former conditioning expert, Raymond Verheijen, who suggested this week that City players are suffering "enormous injuries" because they are overworked. Mancini dismissed Verheijen's comments: "I don't know who this is. Seriously. He never worked with me." City insist Verheijen left as the Italian arrived in December.
The big grin Tevez wore as he sat down to talk to mark City's charitable support for the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital telegraphed a growing harmony between club and player, though the 26-year-old has not let Mancini's decision to release Bellamy, another of those who questioned the double training sessions, go without comment.
"I'm still disappointed by it really," said Tevez, whose three goals were critical to City's League double over Chelsea last season. "I was disappointed at the time when he went and I still feel a bit sad about it. Along with [me] and Shay Given he was always up there as [the fans'] player of the year and I think he proved that on the field, didn't he? It wasn't for no good reason. We combined well on the field and he was a good team-mate in the dressing room as well. We got on well together, so it is a shame, yes."
On the captaincy
The spiky views that make Tevez such an absorbing character – and he is far more intelligent than that Neanderthal face suggests – should not obscure the delight which captaincy has obviously brought, though. "It did surprise [me]," Tevez said of his succession. "The obvious issue is my English. It's not that great, so communicating with players in and around the dressing room is not always easy."
That is not for the want of effort, even if his confidence may be a little lacking. Tevez started this interview in English but deferred to a translator, just as when he took to the press conference top table before City's Europa League qualifier in Timisoara.
Being made captain this season provides a new incentive. "Sometimes in a game, even with the best will in the world, a striker can drift out [of things] for 10 minutes and then come back into it," Tevez observed. "Now that I am captain I can't afford to do that. You have to be 100 per cent concentrated all the time." He conceded, though, that Mancini's suggestion that Tevez can be another Diego Maradona is premature. "There is only one Maradona and only ever will be one. So that's a leap of faith, really," he said.
On Mancini vs Ferguson
What wouldn't Tevez have given for this kind of responsibility and involvement at Old Trafford? The captaincy never came, of course. Neither did a regular place in United's starting side. And though Tevez can laugh about all that now – "I don't talk about Alex Ferguson," he said, grinning, as he prepared to field questions – he still suggests that Ferguson's decades of achievement make comparisons between the Scot and Mancini deeply premature. "I think the big difference is that Sir Alex has more than 20 years' experience behind him at United," Tevez said. "He has won everything. Maybe you can make a comparison when Roberto has had a chance to be in the job for 20 years. He has won things with other clubs and I think things are shaping nicely for him to win things here as well – but, as I say, make the comparisons 20 years down the line."
The accompanying acknowledgement of Mancini was significant, though. "They both deserve to be where they are," he said.
Tevez does not seem to be banking on the Italian enjoying Ferguson's managerial longevity. Asked if he feared Mancini heading off through the same December revolving door as Hughes, he replied: "I don't think it's something you think about. I'm not looking as far ahead as Christmas or the new year to see if there's going to be another manager. It depends on us." And while City strive for immediate parity with United and Chelsea, Tevez still discerns a gulf between the clubs.
"I think we've still got a bit of growing to do as a team," he reflected. "If you look at the teams around us – Man United, Chelsea, Tottenham – they have got a team. We've still got players settling in, a lot of new faces and players having to adapt to the English game. Those other teams have spent a year, two years, playing together. We've had six or seven games."
It is a brutally frank analysis, in which the player's affinity with Mancini is hard to calibrate, though the relationship does not sound like one of affection. When discussing his prolific scoring under Mancini (24 goals in 28 games) Tevez said: "Roberto has helped me improve to a certain extent." Cool, though pointedly less chilly than last April when he declared that Mancini "has not improved me as a player".
On family problems
That was at a time when Tevez was still anxious for his daughter Katie, just a bundle of flesh and tubes when born premature to Tevez's partner Vanesa in a Buenos Aires hospital. It prompted an enforced leave of absence for Tevez which seemed to frustrate Mancini at a time when he was finding results particularly hard to come by. Tevez finally returned for the Stamford Bridge game and the two-goal contribution which revealed precisely why the manager had needed him so much. But the memory of last February in the Argentine capital has stayed with him, and made his appearance so appropriate at the official opening of an outdoor play area funded by City at the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital. Last October, City donated £500,000 to the New Children's Hospital Appeal, part of a £20m fundraising appeal.
Tevez's more recent personal challenges have included the one posed by Juan Alberto Martinez, his half-brother according to Argentine journalists, who was recently sentenced to 16 years in prison for armed robbery.
The player says the Martinez story is a figment of his native country's media's imagination. And as for Katie – well, his own impoverished upbringing in Fuerte Apache gives paternal anxieties a certain perspective. "There are people with a lot more problems than me. You can never really say you are struggling if you are a professional footballer. I think what's made me stronger is my childhood. I had a tough upbringing and learned a lot of positives from that, and that helps me to deal with any problems I encounter in future years."
So how far into future years will we be before those City players grow from individuals into a team? "Let's hope it's quick," their new captain said. "It's hard to say."
Today, though, could give him and Mancini some answers. "I like how [Chelsea] play," Tevez concluded. "It's good when teams are in a rich vein of form when they play us. It makes for a good, open game and I like that.
"Now they are in a slightly better vein of form than us, but we beat them twice [last season]. We can face them on an equal footing because of what happened last season."
And just in case Chelsea need reminding of what did happen late last February in London, Tevez scored twice as the prospective champions were humbled 4-2 at home. And just in case Mancini needs reminding, the other two goals were scored by Craig Bellamy, now departed.
Tevez on City against Chelsea in the title race
'We need to grow as a team. We've still got players settling in, new faces. Chelsea have had years playing together'
Tevez on his criticism of Mancini's training regime
'I cleared the air [with Mancini] at the end of the season. But I still think at the time... and I stand by what I said'
Tevez on Bellamy's exit from the club
'I still feel sad about it. We combined well, he was a good team-mate in the dressing room and we got on. It is a shame'
Tevez on Mancini compared to Ferguson
'The big difference is that Sir Alex has 20 years' experience behind him at United. Make the comparisons in 20 years'