Manchester United’s Portuguese winger Bébé has sustained a consistent attack from the Daily Mail since the player signed three weeks ago. For a senior pro the Mail’s campaign, a series of 15 almost universally critical articles, would represent unprovoked vitriol. Against the callow Bébé, it’s professionally aggressive.
While United supporters are well versed in negative media articles, the Mail’s campaign has been remarkably savage, deriding the 20-year-old, whose full name is Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, as a “dud” and his signature as a “blunder” by the club. This, almost certainly, without having seen the player perform live until last Friday’s début for Portugal Under-21s against the team’s English counterparts.
The series culminates – to date at least – with a write up of the match that makes unrecognisable reading for any supporter who actually watched. Bébé began quietly as a central striker, before performing brightly on the right-flank in the second half.
But that’s the conclusion, the series begins with a deeply misguided critique of the player by the Mail’s Ian Ladyman, after Bébé failed to appear in United reserves’ fixture against Manchester City on 24 August – less than a fortnight after his signature.
“New Manchester United signing Bebe’s impact in training has been so modest that the Portuguese forward was left out of the club’s reserve squad last night,” writes Ladyman, having failed to contact the club for an explanation. Or ignored it if one was given.
“The former Vitoria Guimaraes player is taking so much time to settle that United reserve team boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided not to include him in the 16-man squad to face local rivals Manchester City.”
Except Ladyman’s piece wasn’t even true, with Bébé given time to build his fitness and strength on the training ground before the club will expose the youngster to competitive football at any level. After all, the winger hasn’t appeared in a club game above the semi-professional Portuguese Third division in a short professional career.
Then came another astonishingly inaccurate piece in the Mail’s sports pages, claiming that United’s reserve team coach had left Bebé out of a training match and criticised the player’s progress.
It went further, stating that United’s supporters felt “disquiet” over the transfer. Unsurprisingly, the Mail failed to quote a single fan to support its assertion. Not that anybody at Rant towers suggests the editor put in a phone call just now.
Then the dénouement in crass misguided opinion, masked as factual journalism, with the Mail stating United had once against left Bebé out of a reserve team fixture, this time against Oldham Athletic’s second string. Strange then that the player was away with Portugal Under-21s while this supposed snub was taking place.
To compound the error the paper – in an article it has since pulled from its website to cover the embarrassment – the Mail blasted Bébé for failing to make United’s Champions League 25-man squad. He had. While several media outlets also made the same error, the paper failed to fact check its editorial by placing a 30 second phone call into United’s press office.
The paper then followed up this series with an ‘exposé’ on the transfer, claiming United failed to sign the player for a mere £125,000 last January, with his then club Estrela da Amadora struggling financially and keen to offload a star asset. Legitimate criticism perhaps, although United could have signed the player for free in July this year. Semantics.
Indeed, this is the real problem with the Mail’s series – instead of analysing the economics behind what is still a bizarre transfer, the paper chose to launch a campaign of personal and unprovoked attacks on a young player still trying to make his way in the game despite, not because of, a difficult childhood.
Why? Because United has banned at least one Mail journalist from the club’s Friday press conferences according to manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Finally, Ladyman packed his bags and headed to Portugal to provide an insightful profile on the £7.4 million man. Far too little, too late. Many an observer might note that the Mail could have begun its coverage of Bebé’s arrival at Old Trafford this way. Despite the old adage to the contrary, the media is supposed to let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Perhaps Bébé will have the final laugh though, with the forward scoring on only his second appearance for his nation’s Under-21 side today.