Bébé will play tonight against Scunthorpe United in the Carling Cup second round, with supporters wondering if the £7.4 million Portuguese winger has what it takes to be a Manchester United player. The 20-year-old has featured in just two Under-21 fixtures and a reserve game since his surprise transfer from Vitória de Guimarães in August.
While it is nothing new for Sir Alex Ferguson to spend millions on a player there is perhaps more interest in Bébé’s début than any other in recent times. The intrigue about the financial aspect of the deal, together with the rags-to-riches story of the player’s rise to professional football, have ensured as much.
Indeed, so little is known about the player that he has garnered far more press interest than similarly priced acquisitions at United in recent seasons. The handful of games United supporters have witnessed Bébé play to date have offered little conclusive proof of the player’s ability to make it at Old Trafford or otherwise.
In the three fixtures since the 11 August transfer United supporters have seen Bébé look somewhat uncomfortable in a lone-striker’s role against England Under-21, score against Macedonia Under-21 and impress with his pace – if not crossing accuracy – against Aston Villa reserves. Not that the player has any doubts about his future with the club.
“After a couple more games I will be better,” the player told the Manchester Evening News last week.
“I have to be fitter because it’s a different type of football in England. I am going to be a brilliant player for Manchester United.
“I don’t know when I will be ready for the first team. I need to work hard and a lot depends on the boss whether he calls me into the team or not.
“Sir Alex has told me he is very happy with me and he wants me to train more and get into the first team.”
But Bébé’s confidence hasn’t stopped the spotlight falling firmly on the deal, with the Daily Mail printing a series of negative articles about the Agualva-Cacém-born forward.
In many ways the deal for Bébé is achronistic of our times, with global scouting networks now so advanced boys as young as eight are transported across continents to sign for the world’s biggest clubs. That United failed to sign the player for a reported fee of €150,000 last January is matched in its wastefulness only by the knowledge Bebé was available for free earlier this summer.
Vitória’s financial gain is United’s loss of course, but if the failure of the club’s scouts to spot Bébé’s talent earlier has cost United financially, then the game’s money-men are probably at the root of the matter. After all the very late injection into the deal of Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese agent who has represented some of the leading lights in the nation including Jose Mourinho, almost certainly increased the cost.
Mendes’ appointment as Bébé’s agent, it is said, precipitated the sacking of the player’s original representative just days before United bought out the €9 million release clause. That Vitória offered Bébé a new contract in the week before United pounced, increasing the release clause fee, only adds to the aura of suspicion around the deal.
After all, it’s not the first time United has overpaid for a Portuguese player, with Cristiano Ronaldo available for at least £7 million less than his eventual fee just weeks earlier than his 2003 transfer to Old Trafford. Anderson and to a lesser extent Nani also commanded higher fees than their status suggested when they transferred to United in summer 2007.
Moreover, some of the club’s transfer dealings at the lower end of the market can be called into question over the past five years. The site of a palpably under-qualified Dong Fangzou in a United shirt brought fewer questions than it should have. Manucho Gonçalves, another Portuguese-influenced import, was hardly qualified to play for the club either. He now plays for newly promoted Turkish Süper Lig outfit Burcaspor.
Similar questions will rightly be asked of the deals for Gabriel Obertan and Mame Biram Diouf if, as many suspect, neither makes it at United. Just as they have been of the Serbian winger Zoran Tošić and Diego Forlan before.
None of that is Bébé’s fault of course but the pressure of scrutiny is already bearing down on a player, who by all accounts, is on the very raw side.
As such Bébé cannot succeed against Scunthorpe. A strong performance is mitigated by the quality of opposition; failure and the finger of blame will search for those whom sanctioned the deal.