Tevez saga will boil down to money, not principle
Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez claims he "never refused to play" when asked to come on as a substitute against Bayern Munich on Tuesday night.
The Argentine international says "the time is not right to go into the specific details" but claims there was "confusion" on the bench when manager Roberto Mancini finally called for him to go on 35 minutes from the end of the 2-0 Champions League defeat in Germany.
If Tevez was misunderstood, then his team-mates sitting alongside him will surely back him up. But his claims appear to be at odds with an interview he gave to Sky Sports immediately after the match had finished.
Here is what he said: "I was not feeling good mentally or physically so I told the manager."
Clearly that interview, conducted with the help of a translator, is open to interpretation. However, it is difficult to see how Tevez can escape disciplinary action following the latest controversial twist in his career in English football.
The question now is how far Manchester City are prepared to go in their response.
After a summer of disruption caused by Tevez, the temptation may be to sack him and write off the money they could have recouped for selling him. Fans on Twitter and other social media platforms seem to want that option.
City say Tevez was on the verge of a move to Brazilian club Corinthians for €44m (£38m) in August only for the deal to collapse because the Premier Leaue club failed to get the bank guarantees they demanded. In their defence, Corinthians say City altered the terms of the agreement at the last minute.
Whatever the truth, City were left with a player who had spent the summer agitating for a move back home for family reasons.
Tevez has insisted he is ready to play for City whenever he is asked but it is clear that relations between the club, the player and his agent, Kia Joorabchian, have broken down.
So what can City do next? The simplest - and most pragmatic - option would be to fine him two weeks wages, make him sit on the bench for the next three months and sell him or send him on loan in the January transfer window.
But there could also be a temptation to draw a line in the sand and sack the player for gross misconduct. For that to happen, there would need to be an internal investigation followed by a proper disciplinary process.
That would mean potentially writing off the best part of £40m. City certainly have the money to do that but they are conscious of their commitment to run the club as a proper business. They are also worried about the message that would send at a time when they are trying to comply with Uefa's new Financial Fair Play regulations.
The one relevant precedent I can think of - and which others have referred to - is Chelsea's dismissal of Adrian Mutu in 2004 after the striker was found to have taken cocaine.
Chelsea sacked Mutu for gross misconduct and then used Fifa's transfer regulations to sue the player and any future employer for their valuation of his transfer fee.
Although the nature of the offences are substantially different - and you could argue that Tevez's crime is far less serious - one lawyer I have spoken to said it would be possible to construct a gross misconduct case based on a refusal to play.
Not only would sacking Tevez end any potential future disruption to Mancini's dressing room, it would remove the player from the wage bill. It would also open up the successful legal line of attack that was pursued by Chelsea in relation to Mutu.
But - and it is a big but - seven years after Chelsea began their case against Mutu, they are still pursuing the player for the €17m (£15m) they say was his remaining transfer value at the time of his dismissal and which Fifa said they were entitled to claim.
None of the clubs Mutu went on to play for have ever paid a penny while the player himself continues to drag the case through the appeal courts. Chelsea have not given up but I think it is fair to say they have little hope of seeing any money.
The same fate may befall City's Abu Dhabi owners. Regrettably, as with most things in football, it will all boil down to money and not principle.