Portugal Striking Woes Underline Bebé’s Exclusion
Only one Portuguese player from a major European league has managed more goals than Bebé in the past season: his name is Cristiano Ronaldo. Paulo Bento’s reluctance to include the Manchester United loanee in his World Cup squad has been brought to light thanks to the dismal showings of his striking options and a swift exit at the group stage. Bebé is coming off a career season at Pacos de Ferreira, the vital contributor to his club’s survival in the Primeira Liga. These feats did not go unnoticed in the Portuguese media, earning the 23-year-old a spot in numerous ‘team of the season’ polls. That Paulo Bento did not even include him in the provisional 30-man squad is baffling indeed.
Here we examine Bebé’s credentials against forwards involved in Portugal’s disappointing World Cup campaign:
2013/14 goal tally: 13 (11 in Primeira Liga)
Club: Pacos de Ferreira (on loan from Manchester United)
Bebé’s thirteen league goals assured survival for a club which, for much of the season, looked destined for the Portuguese second division. His strike rate is even more impressive when you consider that Pacos de Ferreira only managed 28 league goals the entire season. This included a run of six goals in six games during March, and a crucial goal against Desportivo das Aves in a high-stakes relegation playoff. Though employed mostly as a winger last season, Bebé’s 6’3″ frame also makes him a plausible choice as a target man in the Portuguese squad.
Verdict: Young, on-form and versatile, Bebé’s inclusion in the squad should have been a no-brainer. In fact, one can almost make a case for him as the starting center forward, or out wide in place of Nani. Expect him to play a big role for Portugal in Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.
2013/14 goal tally: 4 (3 in the Primeira Liga)
A ligament injury ended Éder’s club season in March, but three goals remains a very low return for the man born in Guinea-Bassau. As the chart below displays, Bebé managed twice as many goals as Éder on a per-minute basis, despite Braga being a much stronger team than Pacos de Ferreira.
Verdict: Playing in the same league as Bebé, Éder offered the most direct comparison. A dismal goal scoring record, coupled with lingering doubts about his fitness made his inclusion in the squad questionable at best.
2013/14 goal tally: 3 (3 in La Liga)
Club: Valencia, Lazio
Postiga failed to stamp down his place at Valencia after a £2.6 million move last summer. The former Spurs player managed three goals in 15 league games before being loaned to Lazio in January. He made only 5 appearances in the Serie A, with no goals to his name.
Verdict: Taken off with an injury within 16 minutes against the United States summed up Bento’s decision to call up the veteran. Highly experienced, but the goals and match sharpness were simply not there anymore.
2013/14 goal tally: 15 (13 in the Super Lig)
With many still doubtful about his role as Portugal’s first choice forward, Almeida was largely ineffectual against Germany until an injury saw his tournament within 27 minutes. With a goal tally is similar to Bebé’s, Almeida remained a considerable better choice than Éder or Postiga.
Verdict: His experience and ability to play the No.9 role justified his inclusion, if only because the lack of centre forward options for Portugal.
2013/14 goal tally: 1 (0 in Premier League)
Club: Manchester United
Eleven league appearances all season, only seven starts. Last season was an underwhelming one for Nani, even for a player whose career has been defined by unfulfilled expectations. Still capable of changing a game (and scoring), as showed by his goal against the United States.
Verdict: That Nani has a starting berth with Bebé not even in the squad made it all the more puzzling, given their similar roles on the pitch. Nani was always going to have a place in this team, although Portugal might be better off using him as an impact player off the bench. At least he’s a better option than Quaresma.
2013/14 goal tally: 1 (0 in Primeira Liga)
Cavaleiro was included in the Paulo Bento’s provisional squad. With only one goal in 19 appearances for Benfica last season, Cavaleiro’s youth is arguably the only reason for his involvement.
Verdict: Rightly trimmed from the final 23-man squad, some might question Bento’s decision to involve the youngster who was never going to be selected anyway. Bebé is only three years older and would’ve had a realistic chance of making it to Brazil.