Shanghai Shenhua Play Better in CSL When Carlos Tevez Is Absent

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Carlos Tevez says he is struggling to adapt to Shanghai life even though he gets on well with his Shenhua teammates.

The issues began before he had even arrived in China. Confusion over the date Carlos Tevez was supposed to begin his Shanghai Shenhua career saw the Argentine head on holiday with his family while future teammates prepared for their fateful AFC Champions League playoff with Brisbane Roar. It was an ominous start to life in Asia.

Yet, having failed to perform in that tie after just two weeks with his new side, the start of the Chinese Super League season brought great hope as a Tevez-inspired Shenhua defeated Jiangsu Suning 4-0 on the opening day — a result which greatly eased pressure on manager Gus Poyet.

However, with the club’s season now seven games old, that victory remains the only match in which the Argentine has played a part in victory. Three poor performances were followed by two wins in which Tevez played no part. Questions are already being asked.

With rumours of his discontent in Shanghai having circled from the start, it is now his on-pitch contribution which is every bit as concerning. On current evidence, Shenhua are a better side without their former Premier League striker.

In Tevez’s absence over the past fortnight, Shenhua have turned to Nigeria forward Obafemi Martins to complete their foreign-player contingent on the pitch, alongside the Colombian duo of Giovanni Moreno and Fredy Guarin. Across 180 minutes as a unit, the trio have contributed four goals to help seal six points.

Poyet now has a problem. Does he bring in his high earning superstar once again, following his likely four-week injury absence? Or simply continue with the combination now bringing consistent results?

Gus Poyet, head coach of Shanghai Shenhua, during the AFC Champions League 2017 playoff match against Brisbane Roar.
Gus Poyet must decide if he should bring fit-again Carlos Tevez back into the Shanghai Shenhua starting side.

It is an equation complicated by worries over the South American’s attitude should he not be picked, having already proven a significant off-pitch distraction in his brief time on China’s East coast.

“Tevez is forgotten” read the headline of ‘Football’ newspaper following Shenhua’s victory over Guizhou Zhicheng. But the truth is that his profile and salary mean he will not simply drift from fans’ consciousness. On almost a daily basis, Tevez is a leading story.

First, he was struggling to adapt to Chinese life, then supposedly returning to Boca Juniors only for his agent to insist he would be seeing out his contract in China. That was all prior to last week’s Disneyland controversy which brought headlines across the world.

If it was media attention which Shenhua wanted from their big-name signing, they certainly achieved that aim.

Needing time to adapt to a new setting is no crime, but that is not the expectation of elite foreign players in the CSL — they are expected to come in and make a major impact from the start. Indeed, Tevez himself has admitted it is not quite happening for him yet.

“I still haven’t completely adapted to the CSL,” Phoenix report the Argentine as saying.

“With time, it will get better. I get on well with my teammates, there’s no problem there.”

Shanghai Shenhua starting team v Guizhou Hengfeng
Shanghai Shenhua have won their last two Chinese Super League games without Carlos Tevez.

What has been interesting, from a footballing perspective, is the role Tevez has been playing within Poyet’s side. Shenhua (supporters at least) had expected the all-action Tevez of his days in Manchester and Turin, but have instead have seen a player more intent on dropping deeper to influence play.

While he may yet have a career in such a role, it presents a significant issue for Shenhua, given their leading scorer this season — and longest serving foreign player — is No. 10 Moreno. The Colombian was shunted wide in the opening games of the season to accommodate Tevez, as Poyet experimented with his new charges. It was a move quickly discarded.

Moreno is now excelling in his absence, and has arguably been the league’s best foreign player this season. It is he who perhaps gains most from the pace of Martins in attack, given extra room in which to demonstrate his undoubted quality.

It all adds to the dilemma Poyet faces upon Tevez’s return.

Shenhua has previously been a difficult club at which to perform, as Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba would attest. However, the off-field issues which dogged the club under previous owner Zhu Jun, are no longer an excuse for failing to produce results. If Tevez’s presence is harming performance, both player and coach can only look to themselves for answers.

With the CSL transfer window shut, will we see Wayne Rooney or Ashley Young head to China in June?
Jason Dasey and Tampines Rovers striker Fazrul Nawaz discuss the impact Carlos Tevez and Oscar can have on Asian football.

The furore over Tevez’s visit to Disneyland on a matchday was a non-story, with the club undoubtedly preferring he settles well, rather than criticising time spent with his family. But the general unease about his happiness in Shanghai, and constant supply of rumour in the Argentine media, are things he can, and must, control.

Having agreed a more than generous remuneration package to join Shenhua, Tevez must now hold up his side of the bargain. Otherwise, the 33-year-old may find himself joining Anelka as one of the biggest letdowns in the history of football on the Asian continent.

There is still time to rectify the situation, but at notoriously impatient Shenhua he may find himself at a point of no return, sooner rather than later.

Chris Atkins is based in China and writes for ESPN FC about the Chinese Super League. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisAtkins_.

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