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ATHENS 2004 | Passport Portraits | Series of looks
at Olympians from around the world

Tevez Is Young Star on the Rise

At age 20, striker who grew up in rough area leads Argentina into a men's semifinal against Italy.

August 23, 2004|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Carlos Alberto Tevez was 8 when he signed his first professional contract.

The Argentine youngster from the crime-ridden Buenos Aires neighborhood of Fort Apache, nicknamed after a 1940s John Wayne movie, was on his way.

Tevez is now 20, and on Tuesday he will start for Argentina in the Olympic men's soccer semifinal against Italy, a country he could be playing in this fall after what is expected to be at least a $40-million transfer from his Argentine club, Boca Juniors.

That's if Italian giants such as AC Milan, Inter Milan or Juventus can fend off the English, German and Spanish clubs also chasing the player known fondly as Carlitos.

Bayern Munich and Manchester United are two of the teams that have scouted Tevez and expressed serious interest, interest that will have grown with Tevez's performance in these Olympic Games.

He has scored four goals in Greece, including three in a 4-0 rout of Costa Rica on Saturday.

The Olympics are simply the latest springboard in the career of a player already being compared to a former Argentine legend who also capitalized on his unquestioned skills to rise from poverty and become a worldwide phenomenon: Diego Armando Maradona.

The similarities between the two are undeniable.

Tevez, like Maradona, was spotted young. He began playing soccer in the streets when he was 4, often against older boys, which meant he learned quickly to avoid the kicks aimed at his shins and ankles.

Tevez, like Maradona, plays for Boca, wears No. 10 and has a compact build.

Tevez is slightly taller, with dark hair and an intense scowl. He does have two characteristics that Maradona lacked: scars from a childhood accident when boiling water was spilled on him, and a broken tooth, a battle trophy from those street games.

He won't fix either, saying they are part of him.

The reaction is typical of a youngster who still identifies with his old neighborhood even though the Tevez family now lives in a house provided by Boca.

"I'm the same as them, nothing more," he told Reuters during the Copa America in Peru last month.

Tevez had been playing for meals or pocket money when he was spotted and signed by All Boys, an Argentine second-division club, when he was 8. Within four years he had been acquired by Boca Juniors, and he rose swiftly through the youth ranks until making his debut for the senior team in November 2001.

It was the culmination of a lifelong dream for the 17-year-old Tevez, who is the oldest of five children.

"It's a fantastic feeling to play for Boca, both for me and for my family, who are all Boca fans," he said at the time. "It's really amazing ... I always wanted to be a Boca striker."

He didn't start out that way. His superior dribbling skills, his vision and pinpoint passing had him labeled as a playmaking midfielder, but Boca Coach Carlos Bianchi recognized his more valuable talents in front of the net and turned him into a striker.

Since then, his rise from relative unknown to potential world-beater has been spectacular.

In 2002, he helped Argentina win the South American under-20 championship.

That was also the year Boca played Manchester United in a friendly in England and Tevez came home with a David Beckham shirt that still adorns his bedroom wall, alongside the posters of Ronaldo and Maradona.

In 2003, his play inspired Boca to a trio of triumphs: The Argentine league title, the Copa Libertadores crown and the Intercontinental Cup. In the latter, Boca beat European champion AC Milan in the final in Yokohama, and Milan Coach Carlo Ancelotti was quick to recognize Boca's danger man.

"We will need to be very careful with Tevez," he said before the match. "He is their best player."

This year, Tevez's inspired play led Argentina to the Copa America finals, where it lost on penalty kicks to Brazil after controlling the match.

Now he is within two wins of a triumph that would make up for the loss of the Copa.

"We came to Athens for one reason -- to win a medal," Tevez said after scoring in a 2-0 victory over Tunisia during pool play. "We are all dreaming of taking the gold medal back to Argentina."

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