The decision made by Sir Alex Ferguson to bring the previously unknown Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, commonly known by his nickname Bebé, to Manchester United has come under a lot of scrutiny by the press, but has Fergie unearthed another gem?
The Bebé transfer was an interesting and peculiar one right from the start. He began his career with amateur side Loures before signing for Portuguese second division side Estrela da Amadora in the summer of 2009. Estrela struggled to pay his wages and looked to unload him to dutch giants PSV in May 2010, however Bebé’s former agent Goncalo Reis revealed that PSV had turned down the offer as ”they did not know him”. He was then snapped up by Vitória de Guimarães in the summer of 2010 on a free transfer. He signed a five-year contract with Vitória witha £7.4 million release clause, but didn’t play a single competitive match for the Portuguese side before United pounced.
After recommendations from former assistant at Old Trafford, Carlos Queiroz, and after an impressive pre-season with Vitória, where he scored five goals in six games, Sir Alex Ferguson began to show interest in the 20-year-old, and on the 11th of August 2010 Manchester United signed Bebé for an undisclosed fee thought to be in the region of £7.4 million. When the press got word of this deal a media circus ensued. Surely Fergie wouldn’t pay over the odds for a player he has never seen play before, a player recommended to him just one day before the deal went through by a former member of staff, a player who spent most of his childhood in a homeless shelter and whose only previous notable footballing experience before 2009 was appearing for amateur club Loures on occasion and the CAIS team in the European Street Football Festival in the Bosnian town of Foca. Or did the United boss know something we didn’t? The rumour mill went into overdrive and stories began to leak. A former coach at Bebé’s old club Estrela, Jorge Paxaio, revealed that in January this year Bebé was in the shop window for as little as £125,000 in attempt to save the club from going into liquidation. He explained:
”Last season we had no money at all. We were trying to transfer Bebé to other clubs. We had to raise money desperately. We told everyone in England and in Europe: “For 150,000 Euros you can have him”. We couldn’t get anybody interested. Nobody trusted him. None of the clubs were interested because he had never played at a high level. I was surprised with the sudden way it happened with United. I was hoping he would move to a bigger club in Portugal or to a medium-sized club in Europe. I didn’t expect Manchester United.”
Bebé’s former agent Goncalo Reis was, like most in the footballing world, equally shocked at how the deal progressed. He went on to say:
”A scout from United could have contacted me or the club last season. There was no secret. But I understand that the United scout just saw certain games in Portugal and only realised Bebé was a great player when he saw some pre-season games involving Guimaraes.”
It looked to everyone that United had paid over the odds for the attacker. Everyone was asking themselves why Ferguson had dished out such a large sum of money for such an unknown, inexperienced youngster. Although the majority in the media allowed themselves to be drawn to the idea that another overpriced flop was on his way to Old Trafford, some were less scrutinous. It is now widely believed that although Ferguson would have preferred Bebé to stay at Vitória and gain a little more experience, as well as giving him a chance to scout the player more extensively, the United boss was pressured into triggering the £7.4 million release clause in his contract amid speculation that some of Europe’s top clubs, including Real Madrid and Benfica, were courting the Portuguese prospect. If the youngster possesses the skills required to interest some of Europe’s top clubs, along with a number of world class coaches, you begin to think that £7.4 million isn’t a whole lot of money for an apparently promising talent, by the standards set in today’s footballing market.
The Bebé transfer came under even more scrutiny recently when Manchester United revealed that Jorge Mendes, and not Goncalo Reis, was the agent involved in the deal that took him to Old Trafford. Mendes, who is the agent of former United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz and was also involved in the deal that took Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford, was involved in accusations made by Reis that he had ”poached” the players contract. Reis insisted that at the time of the transfer he had a written contract, between himself and Bebé, to act as his agent. It is reported that Bebé had written to Reis to terminate their relationship, although Reis has claimed that he didn’t receive the letter until The 13th of August, two days after the player had signed for the Red Devils. FIFA regulations forbid an angent from contacting a player while he has ”an exclusive representation contract” with another agent, and Reis may present his case for further investigation.
Amid all the stories and controversy involved in the deal, it would be understandable for Bebé to feel apprehensive and overwhelmed by his new surroundings, but he seems to have taken to life at Old Trafford quite comfortably. The Portugal under-21 international made his debut for the United first team against Scunthorpe on Wednesday the 22nd of September and has already began to impress the backroom staff and his new teammates. United assistant Mike Phelan believes Bebé showed plenty of promise on his debut in the League Cup clash.
“The scoreline gave us the opportunity to give Bebé a little look at what Manchester United is all about. I thought he responded very well. There were fleeting moments of pace and power, and he got a little bit excited now and again. But it’s important that players like him get these opportunities.”
Teammate Chris Smalling was also impressed by Bebé’s bit-part display.
”Since he’s come in, he’s become sharper every day. He’s really improving and working on his fitness. Tonight he really caused their full-back problems, coming in from the wing. Hopefully we’ll see him produce that kind of form in many games to come.”
Bebé was surprised to make United’s 25-man Champions League squad, but is keen to impress.
”I’m surprised by my inclusion in the Champions League squad, it’s a dream for me. I never thought I would have made it, but now I am a very happy man. I only hope that my confidence returns when I start playing some games and scoring goals, like I know how. At the moment I am working very hard each day in training. I intend to make the most of my chance and hopefully profit from the opportunity given to me.” He told reporters in Portugal:
”I am working hard, everyone has helped me a lot, I have adapted well, given the short time I have been there. The older ones help me a lot.”
Following a slightly more personal question from one particular journalist, Bebé smiled and added: ”Did Ferguson make me cut my hair? More or less…”
Before even kicking a ball for Manchester United, he was criticised, scrutinised and deemed unworthy by many. Will he join the list of expensive flops that have come and gone at Old Trafford, or will he prove his worth and repay the faith shown in him? With the media spotlight shining directly on Bebé’s rise from the streets to stardom, will he shine back?
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