Published On: Fri, Aug 19th, 2016

6 years on: United banks £7.4M on ex-street boy Bebe

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In 2010, Alex Ferguson was sensibly navigating the summer transfer market despite Manchester United surrendering its top-flight title to Chelsea in May. While some clubs would feel the need to reassess the senior players after relinquishing a run of three consecutive league triumphs, the club was instead looking for investments.

The £10-million spent on former Maidstone United defender Chris Smalling from Fulham would’ve surprised some – particularly given his tally of just 13 Premier League starts at the time – but the capture of Javier Hernandez for around £6 million was inspired.

Presumably to ensure Darron Gibson came nowhere near the first XI, Ferguson was also eyeing a slight midfielder from Werder Bremen who went by the name of Mesut Ozil. The combative Scot had been attending preseason matches and meeting with Ozil’s employer to discuss a potential deal for the 21-year-old.

But then Ferguson made a signing that many dub as the worst of his 26-year tenure – worse than the acquisitions of Juan Sebastian Veron, David Bellion, and Gabriel Obertan: £7.4 million for Bebe.


(Courtesy: Daily Mail)

“One day I was training (in Portugal) and immediately they told me to leave, that I was going to sign a five-year contract (with United),” Bebe remembered in 2015. “I didn’t know if it was a joke. I was not there long, but I made the most of it.”

Abandoned

Bebe, 20, had a story primed for Hollywood. Forget Jamie Vardy‘s troublesome years in Sheffield while turning out for Stocksbridge Park Steels – United’s new boy was living in the Casa do Gaiato homeless shelter just two months before his lucrative transfer.

Raised by his grandmother after being abandoned by his mother and father as a child, a court then ruled that he would go into the church-run residence. His “senhorinha” remained supportive – he has the word tattooed on his arm – but Bebe increasingly developed an attachment to his new digs 12 miles outside of Lisbon.

Teetering on the edge of a life of street crime, Bebe learned to read and write at Casa do Gaiato and, on the recommendation of those running the shelter, started playing for local amateur side Loures.

Months before he progressed to Estrela da Amadora in 2009, a third-tier side hailing from a deprived corner of the Portuguese capital, he was selected as part of an eight-a-side, mixed-sex squad representing CAIS. Among the organisation's many initiatives is using football to get kids away from sleeping rough. CAIS flew its squad to Bosnia to compete in a homeless competition.


(Courtesy: BBC)

“He made a huge impression at the tournament,” said CAIS director Henrique Pinto in 2010. “In terms of ability, he was the team. But he did not try to keep the ball. He involved the others. That is the image I have of him.”

Bebe’s account is that he scored 40 goals in six matches.

The versatile attacker subsequently shone at Estrela, but unfortunately the team mirrored the poverty that permeated that area of Lisbon. He would travel from his shelter in the dusty countryside each day, to arrive at an outfit crumbling before his very eyes.

“We used to have a gym and Bebe was in there often,” revealed Jorge Paixao, who coached the team that season. “But then one day the players turned up and all the equipment had gone. The club had sold it to pay off debts.”

Bebe was allowed to leave for the Primeira Liga's Vitoria de Guimaraes for free because Estrela couldn't pay him anymore. His release clause – exceeding €1 million – was annulled due to his unpaid wages.

Vitoria wrote a £7.4-million minimum fee in his deal in Guimaraes and, on a recommendation from ex-United assistant Carlos Queiroz and encouraged by Bebe’s preseason showings, Ferguson exercised that clause just five weeks later.

‘I was lacking many things’

Cristiano Ronaldo had left for Real Madrid in a record-breaking transfer two months earlier, and many were optimistic that the veteran gaffer had uncovered another Portuguese star. Considering his bumpy yet meteoric rise to Manchester, others like his old CAIS boss simply hoped he would remain humble.

“In his attitude towards life and other people around him, I do not believe that Bebe will become a person like Ronaldo, who I do not like,” said Pinto.


Bebe struggled. As a young man who had scrambled and relied on the good nature of others to survive, he couldn’t comprehend the £12,000 dropping into his bank account each week and had his head turned by the attractions of Manchester. His performances on the training ground suffered; he was famously substituted against Wolverhampton Wanderers after being introduced from the bench earlier on due to a succession of wayward crosses and being far off the pace.

United won the Premier League title that season, but Bebe didn’t start one match. Fans could’ve been forgiven for thinking the forward had won a competition after collecting cereal vouchers when he appeared at the front of the bus parade with Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, and Luis Nani. By then, Ferguson had already written him off as a dud.

“I arrived there (at United) without much football education, with what I had – talent, pace, strength – but I was lacking many things,” Bebe admitted last year.


He went on to spend numerous loan spells away from Old Trafford, but was impressively on the United books for four years before earning a contract for the same duration at Benfica.

Back on the Iberian peninsula

Bebe never had much of a chance in the Aguias senior squad, but did have more success in loans over the border in Spain, first with Cordoba and then last season at Rayo Vallecano, where he was mostly deployed on the left flank.

While United may still bemoan that the former street boy arrived the same summer the club keenly scouted Ozil – direct creator of 19 Arsenal goals last season – Bebe, now 26, has forged a decent living in the game.

Once known as the player Ferguson signed without watching, Bebe is undergoing preparations for Eibar‘s 2016-17 La Liga season following his permanent move to the Basque country last month.

The homesick visits to Casa do Gaiato have waned.

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