Reserve forward Tiago Manuel Dias Correia – Bébé – will join Beşiktaş on loan for the 2011/12 season, netting Manchester United a €1 million fee in the process. The Portuguese under-21 international, 20, could join the Turkish Süper Lig side permanently although there is no ‘option to buy’ built into the contract as widely reported. But if he does, United will lose more than £5 million on a deal that remains the strangest of Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford.
Bébé’s acquisition has proven to be a disaster and not simply because at €9 (£7.4) million supporters might have expected more from the 20-year-old but because the raw materials were simply lacking in the former Vitória de Guimarães player from the start. The forward scored six goals in 13 appearances for United’s reserves in the past season, and two in seven for the first team. But Ferguson’s decision to countenance a loan abroad brings the Scot’s faith in the player’s long-term development into question.
Indeed, it was a transfer that had a bizzare nature from the start: the inflated fee for a player who had never performed above the third tier previously, a last-minute change of agent, and the player’s albeit heart-warming rags-to-riches personal story.
There is more than a hint of financial mismanagement about the deal though. The £7.4 million fee, 30 per cent of which was handed-over to Jorge Mendes’ GestiFute agency, was paid for a player ‘flipped’ by Guimarães. Bébé had joined Guimarães on a free-transfer from third division outfit Estrala da Amadora just five weeks previously but did not play for the higher-ranked club in a competitive game. Mendes, in turn, had represented Bébé for less than a fortnight.
Nice work if you can get it.
Yet United bought out the player’s contract release fee, reportedly on the recommendation of former assistant manager Carlos Queiroz, now the former-Portugal national coach, with Ferguson meeting the player just once 48 hours before ink had dried on the contracts. Famously Ferguson had never seen Bébé play before agreeing to the transfer. Something about the story has always felt false.
Further mystery is added by United’s audited annual accounts, which showed a post-balance sheet transaction of £8.3 million was paid in respect of player registrations after 30 June, 2010. Quite where the additional £900,000 went is anybody’s guess but rumours of further agent involvement refuse to die down.
Aside from the financial shenanigans the deal also represents everything that can go wrong in a badly planned transfer. For all the credit that Ferguson rightly claims in signing Mexican Javier Hernández, Bébé represents the counter-point. United apparently scouted Hernández for weeks, sending Jim Lawler to Mexico to thoroughly research both the player and man. It worked, with United securing what has now proven the season’s bargain. At £7 million, with further add-ons, United could more than triple Hernández’ fee if sold on the open market today.
Yet the club’s behaviour in signing Bébé, seemingly on a whim, negates successes elsewhere. Certainly if finances are a primary reason for Ferguson’s bragging over Hernández then more than £5 million wasted on Bébé must also be held to account. The two approaches cannot be reconciled.
Bébé will join four other Portuguese at Beşiktaş, including Ricardo Quaresma, Simão Sabrosa, Hugo Almeida and Manuel Fernandes – all of which are GestiFute clients. Has Mendes done United a favour moving Bébé on or simply double-dipped on the deal? After all, Mendes has built a certain reputation in the industry. The agent, some might say, can sell ice to Esikmos, coals to Newcastle and homeless duds to wealthy Premier League outfits.
There is more to this line-of-thinking too, with Mendes also agent to José Mourinho who many believe will take the reigns at Old Trafford one day. Mendes is also favourite to snap up Old Trafford-bound David de Gea when the Spaniard’s contract with Hector Rincon ends on 31 June. de Gea will become the fourth GestiFute client on United’s books, including Bébé, Nani and Anderson.
It is also hard to see where United can turn the deal around unless Bébé matures beyond expectation at the Black Eagles in Turkey. More likely, if Bébé plays little – there is a complicated ‘foreigners’ rule in the Süper Lig – then the player may simply return to Old Trafford next summer virtually unsellable.
In this there is also sympathy for the man who has been shunted from club-to-club in the past year, seemingly at the will of agents. Roy Keane’s assertion that players are little more than “meat” comes to mind.
Bébé’s dream has turned sour because he did not have the talent to fulfil it at Old Trafford, even though he has worked hard to develop. The actions of those who signed-off on the deal are yet to be brought to account.