Manchester United’s acquisition of Tiago Manuel Dias Correia – Bébé – for £7.4 million last week adds an attacking talent to Sir Alex Ferguson’s roster at Old Trafford. But the surprise nature of the deal, which was sealed in two days, left an information vacuum on the player who appeared in the Portuguese third division last season.
Indeed, the player’s rise to fame, fortune and the biggest stage in world football has come about with such remarkable speed that little is known by supporters about the player or his background aside from the widely reported fact that Bébé – orphaned as a child – spent time both in a children’s home and on the streets.
United’s manager described the player’s move as a fairytale given Bébé’s humble background, limited experience of professional football and the rapidity of the reds’ acquisition.
“It is one of those things that happens when you identify someone with potential. Normally you would assess someone over a longer period of time but other clubs were starting to have a look so we made a quick decision,” said Ferguson, who first met the player last Tuesday and has never seen the 20-year old perform live.
The quick decision has brought a talented if callow player to Old Trafford; following the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Anderson in moving from Portuguese football north to Manchester. Bébé, however, is a very different breed. One of the last street footballers. All raw talent and very little coaching.
“He’s an Under-19 Portuguese international who is very flexible and can play several positions on the field,” says Ricardo Valente, President of the Manchester United Supporters Club in Portugal, who is one of the few reds to have actually seen Bébé play live.
“Bébé is not a pure striker like Van Nistelrooy, Cole or even Hughes but he can play behind a striker and get some goals. He’s more a winger, who can be used on both flanks like Nani.”
He is a team player, adds Valente, who is quick, has two good feet, and can both score goals and provide assists. In this Bébé is more likely to provide competition for Antonio Valencia and Nani, alongside Gabriel Obertan and Ji-Sung Park, than United’s striking contingent.
Valente adds a warning though. Although undoubtedly talented Bébé will require time away from the spotlight to acclimatise to his new environment. Indeed, Ferguson echoed these words saying there’s little need to rush the player, who is yet to play a minute of competitive football above Portuguese third division level.
“The boy is not ready to play right now, he will need some time to adapt to United’s culture, understand our history and tradition, get to know his team mates and staff, and learn to speak English,” warns Valente.
“He’s not a player for United’s present; he’s a player for our future. The staff will now work on the boy and we could see some developments later in the season.
“But for now Nani, Rafael, Fábio and Anderson will help him to understand team mates.”
Cultural adaptation may indeed require time, with Bébé yet to speak any English, unlike motormouth Mexican recruit Javier Hernández whose excellent language skills already match those on the pitch.
United’s patience will be rewarded in a player for whom Real Madrid was just one of four clubs offering Vitória de Guimarães a transfer fee. It says much that Bébé chose Old Trafford over the competition.
“It’s an opportunity that has been given to me and I must grab it,” said Bébé today at Old Trafford.
“The strong Portuguese links here were a big thing for me. Ronaldo played here and he became a great player. Also, Nani and Anderson are here and I want to be like them and work hard to become a good player.”
Bébé’s rise to prominence has been so meteoric – he joined Vitória de Guimarães less than two months ago – that United’s scouting department missed out on the free transfer by a matter of weeks.
But the Portuguese league, although lacking success at European level since Porto’s Champions League win in 2004 under Jose Mourinho’s guidance, has become a feeding ground for talented youngsters, with the number of scouts from top clubs increasing in recent years.
“Top European teams are paying more attention to Portuguese League,” adds Valente.
“Some of them like Real Madrid, Olympique Lyon, Chelsea, AC Milan and United started sending their scouts on permanent basis to watch young players.
“Vitória de Guimarães’ president confirmed that seven top clubs were following Bébé. After five or six pre-season matches he was playing well and by then every scout knew him. United came and paid the money, like they did for Nani and Anderson.”
Although former United assistant manager Carlos Quieroz twice spoke with Ferguson about the transfer the real credit for the discovery goes to Toninho Cruz, the Portuguese scout hired by the Red Devils back in 2004. Indeed, Cruz has become a major asset to United in the region, adds Valente.
The £7.4 million fee and player’s lack of experience make the transfer high risk nonetheless. In the end, that great scouting will only prove value for money if the player makes it at Old Trafford.
Ferguson, of course, has built a reputation for developing younger players and bringing them through into the first team. The Scot has staked this season on a faith in youth – both those brought in at expense and players, such as Tom Cleverley, developed in United’s academy.
“Bébé will have the same treatment that others in the past, the boy will follow their lead and settle well at the club. He just needs some time now to understand what Manchester United is all about,” says Valente.
“But before Christmas everybody will know his name – and you can put that on paper.”