Bebé at United
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Bebé: Failed Future Star or Football Fraudster?

Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, otherwise known as Bebé, probably holds the title for the strangest transfer in Premier League history. Football players and fans will forever question his move from Vitoria de Guimaraes to Manchester United in 2010. Was it a risk for a Portuguese youngster? Are you trying to emulate Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to the Red Devils, or was it part of something illegal and unethical behind the scenes?

From Rags to Riches

Bebé was born in Agualva-Cacem, a town just outside of Lisbon, to immigrants from Cape Verde but was abandoned by them and raised by his grandmother. This was until he turned 12 when he was placed in the care of the church and, as such, he moved to a homeless shelter in Santo Antão do Tojal (20km from Lisbon). It is here where he made his name after being invited to the Homeless World Cup with the CAIS (Portugal) team.

In just six matches, Bebe scored 40 goals, but the team didn’t progress past the second round of the competition – which was held in the Bosnian town of Foca. This unbelievable performance was seen by several scouts, including Estrela De Amadora (in the 3rd division of Portugal), who gave him an opportunity and signed him. Unfortunately, they were struggling with financial issues, and despite being regarded as the star player and fan favourite, Bebe broke his contract in 2010 and left for Vitoria de Guimaraes on a free transfer.

The Controversy Around Bebé

Just five weeks after signing for Vitoria de Guimaraes, Manchester United agreed on an unknown fee for the Portuguese star Bebe after he scored five goals in pre-season. An unusual transfer on its own, former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz was the manager of Portugal for the 2010 World Cup, and MUFC star Luis Nani was ready to be a key part of the team. However, Nani supposedly took a PED (performance-enhancing drug) before the tournament had started and, as a result, failed a drug test and was banned from football for at least 12 months.

The previous colleague of Nani and Sir Alex Ferguson, Carlos Queiroz, sent Nani home with “a mysterious shoulder injury” just hours before he was supposed to take the test. The conspiracy suggests that Ferguson requested Querioz to send Nani home and, in return, Ferguson would instruct Manchester United to buy Bebe for an inflated fee. Jorge Mendes was the agent of both Bebe and Queiroz, meaning that the inflated fee could have been to pay off both Mendes and Queiroz – of course, it is still unknown as to whether this is the case or not. However, everything does point to this being true.

Bebé with Chicharito, Sir Alex and Chris Smalling
Bebe being announced as a new Manchester United signing with Chicharito and Chris Smalling.

As reported, Ferguson had never seen Bebe play before signing him, but David Gill, Manchester United’s Chief Executive, claimed that “they had been following him for a while”. However, the Portuguese prospect never reached his ‘potential’ and only played seven games for the club in his four-year period at the Red Devils, scoring just twice. He was loaned out three times: Beşiktaş, playing four games; Rio Ave, playing 19 games; and Paços de Ferreira, playing 39 games and scoring 14 goals. This period earned him a move back to Portugal to Benfica, a club he would only play six games for.

“He struck the ball with venom, off either foot, with no drawback. He was not the complete player, but we were coaching him to be better. On the big pitch his concept of team play needed work. With feet like his he was capable of scoring 20 goals a season.”

Despite selling him, it was clear Sir Alex was a fan of Bebe so much so, that he wrote about him in his autobiography – released in 2013.

What Could Have Been…

Bebé celebrating a goal for Rayo Vallecano

The rest of Bebe’s career was rather disappointing, he was loaned out in the second half of the 14/15 season to Cordoba and for the full 15/16 season to Rayo Vallecano. In 2016, Eibar signed Bebe for €1.5 million, and he went on to play 39 games for the club, scoring 5 goals and getting 4 assists. In January 2018, Bebe returned to Vallecano on loan again before joining on a permanent deal in 2018. He is still signed on to Vallecano and has played a total of 178 games and scored 24 goals for the Spanish outfit, but joined Zaragoza on loan for the end of the 22/23 season. He has since returned to Rayo Vallecano.

It’s clear for all to see that Bebe never reached his ‘potential’ after scoring 40 goals in the Homeless World Cup, or is this what his career was destined to be? Did Bebe ever have the potential to make it to the top of the game? Was he always just part of a cover-up to save face?

The reasons may have been due to malpractice, but his journey from homelessness to Old Trafford in just 12 months will likely never be replicated again. He will probably be remembered for the wrong reasons, but his career is no short of a miracle. Whether he saved the career of Nani or if it was just a coincidence and was signed at the wrong time, Bebe will forever be remembered by Manchester United and football fans worldwide.

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