Gregory Sica: Nifty Argentine has Man U within striking distance - Sports Illustrated

Nifty move

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Sure, he had already demonstrated his quality in the Premiership, having scored seven times in his final 10 league matches last season as he helped West Ham escape from relegation. But despite his extraordinary late-season revival, Tévez had to wait 20 matches before scoring his first goal for the Hammers.

Early signs suggested that his controversial transfer to Manchester United could also get off to a slow start, but Alex Ferguson didn't allow this to happen, giving the striker the necessary confidence to have a much smoother transition than was expected.

On New Year's Day, Tévez scored his 10th goal in a United shirt, earning his side a vital 1-0 victory over Birmingham City at Old Trafford, a result which put Man U within two points of league leader Arsenal.

Tévez, who played arguably his best match for United this season, proved how important his understanding with Cristiano Ronaldo is for the side, and it was a brilliant combination between the two that led to his match-winner. Tévez exchanged an overhead kick with the Portuguese international, who assisted him with a sublime back-heel before Tévez slotted the ball into the back of the net.

His understanding with strike-partner Wayne Rooney has also caught the eye. Prior to signing for the club, many were afraid that Tévez's characteristics were much too similar to that of Rooney's, and there was the concern that United's attack would lack effectiveness because of the absence of a traditional target man.

But quite the contrary, both players have complemented each other very well this season, giving United one of its most aggressive strike partnerships in years. The club has had a number of highly effective partnerships in the past, but none have been even close to as exciting as this one. With the business end of the Premier League and the knockout rounds of the Champions League approaching the Rooney-Tévez partnership is likely to be at its very best.

There's no question United's swoop of Tévez has already paid dividends. Unlike other South American players who had previously played for the club, including Juan Sebastián Verón, Diego Forlán and Kléberson, Tévez has immediately adapted to the pressures involved with playing for the club.

The gifted Argentine -- who achieved superstar status in South America with Boca Juniors and then Corinthians before immigrating to Europe -- has proven that skill, combined with a determined attitude, can go along way in English soccer. This is the reason why he can now be considered one of the deadliest strikers in Europe.

In this short time "Sir Charles," as he is often called by the press, has demonstrated that he is a player capable of rising to the biggest of occasions, after having scored vital goals against Liverpool and Chelsea this season.

Rather ironically, on the final match of last season, a brilliant Tévez goal was the difference as West Ham edged Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford. According to reports, his performance was so impressive that Ferguson asked his directors to begin negotiations with the player immediately after the match.

What has helped Tévez's cause is that his arrival coincided with that of a number of other highly talented players, including Anderson, Nani and Owen Hargreaves. The overall depth of this season's squad is without doubt the best it has been in a long time, and it suggests that United will challenge for each and every possible title this season.

There's no doubt that the UEFA Champions League is United's main priority this season. The Red Devils haven't been able to lift the trophy since 1999, when a sensational late rally saw them edge Bayern Munich 2-1 for the title at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.

This season's squad has the potential to replicate what was achieved that year, and United has already demonstrated why it can be considered a serious title candidate, after staying undefeated, with five wins from six matches, as it won its group in style.

Tévez, who scored twice in the group stage, will surely play a key role when United meets Olympique Lyon in the first knockout round of the competition that begins in late February. United comes into the series as the favorite, although it has to be in top gear in order to overcome a Lyon side that's on track to win a record seventh straight French league title this season.

Even so, Tévez has the right temperament to help United eliminate Lyon and continue to progress in the tournament. The Argentine is no stranger when it comes to winning titles, whether at a local or international level, after having won league championships in Argentina and Brazil, as well as the Copa Libertadores, the Intercontinental Cup and the Copa Sudamericana with Boca Juniors.

At a national-team level, he has also found success, finishing as the top scorer with eight goals in six matches, as Argentina won the Gold Medal at the Athens Olympic Games in '04.

Manchester United has not won an international trophy for some time now, but the quality of its squad this season suggests that its wait could soon be over. Tévez's signing should be seen as a major boost for the side as it challenges for Europe's ultimate prize.