'A god from the gutter', the inside story of Bebe

The buzz surrounding Manchester United's new recruit Bébé is not without foundation.  While many scratched their heads, IBWM contacted an old photographer friend in Braga who described 'a god from the gutter'.  IBWM's newest correspondent Ben Shave picks up the story.

This time last week, Bébé (or Tiago Manuel Dias Ferreira to give him his full title) didn't have a Wikipedia page dedicated to his blossoming career.  He certainly wasn't on Machester United's website. He might have been the top scorer at the 2009 European Festival of Street Soccer (held in Bosnia, in case you were wondering), but outside of Portugal, very few people were aware of his talents. As recently as forty-eight hours ago, Bébé was just another young footballer on the verge of his first great test as a professional: his top-flight debut. Vitória de Guimarães begin the 2010/11 season on Monday evening with an away trip to Olhanense, and following a pre-season campaign which saw him notch up five goals in six games, Bébé had every right to expect a place in the matchday squad, if not the starting lineup.

That's not to say that rumours weren't circulating about the youngster, born in Cacém, a parish in the Greater Lisbon area of Portugal. The sports dailies were rife with stories that he would be departing from the club who took a chance on him just weeks previously (June 24th to be precise) following his departure from Estrela da Amadora, the II Divisão outfit who were apparently unable to pay his wages. On the morning of Wednesday August 9th, Record published a story stating that Bébé was of interest to a number of “major Spanish clubs”, and that Guimarães had had the foresight to sign the player to a contract lasting until 2015, with a release clause of €9m.

I'd noticed these stories popping up a few days earlier, and made a mental note to keep an eye out for Bébé, expecting him to perhaps seal a move to a mid-sized La Liga side. After spending a certain amount of time reading the gossip in various European papers, an air of cynicism takes over. The names I had in mind were not insignificant, but nowhere near the level of Manchester United. Malaga, with their recent hiring of former FC Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira, and his active recruitment of Portuguese players, seemed to be obvious candidates. As it turns out, Bébé, Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Carlos Queiroz caught us all on the hop.

In the days (or should I say hours) since news of the transfer emerged, facts have begun to filter out in dribs and drabs. The Guardian broke the story in the UK, quoting a figure of £7.4 million, or €8.8 million for the players move to Manchester United. Officially, the fee is undisclosed. From the Guimarães perspective, it hardly matters- after all, any amount represents a handsome profit on their original outlay. President Emile Macedo declined to divulge the exact amount received, declaring only that the transfer would “relieve” some of the financial problems affecting the club, problems which were exacerbated when Europa League qualification was snatched from Guimarães on the final day of the 2009/10 season by Marítimo. Indeed, the money received from the transfer has already begun to bear fruit, with free agent João Paulo today (Thursday) signing a contract with the club. Although he was released at the end of last season by Le Mans, the wages of a former FC Porto centre-back would most probably have been beyond the reach of Guimarães...but not now.

But what of Bébé? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the stories that the average Manchester United fan woke up to were long on speculation and short on detail. Again, I must give props to The Guardian for drafting in Tom Kundert of the excellent www.portugoal.net for his profile on Fergie's newest fledgling. But the fact remains that unless you are an Estrela da Amadora or Guimarães fan (speak now or forever hold your peace...), there was, until Wednesday, very little reason for Bébé to be on your radar. Here's what we know: the striker was spotted by Estrela playing for a team affiliated with the children's home where he spent part of his youth- this kid, like so many great footballers of years gone by, is a product of poverty. Last season, he played 26 games, scoring 4 goals. That may strike you as something of a meagre return, but the fact that Estrela finished 9th in a 16-team division, scoring 26 times in 30 outings, will perhaps put a little more gloss on the statistics. Manchester United, they are not.

Portugal, like many European nations, has something of a labyrinthine lower league system, and one might legitimately wonder how (and why) Bébé was plucked from the 48 teams competing in the II Divisão. I must confess that my knowledge regarding the specifics of the Guimarães scouting system is somewhat scant, but Estrela da Amadora are no minor provincial side. As recently as the 2008-9 season they were a mid-table Liga Sagres outfit, but were relegated due to financial irregularities, and have since sunk into relative obscurity. A few Amadora alumni: Henrique Hilário, Jorge Andrade, Miguel and Abel Xavier. That list was not produced with the intention of placing expectations on a player I've hardly seen, but it does indicate that Estrela perhaps do pick 'em, occasionally.

In a world of high-speed internet access and YouTube compilations, many of you will have formed an opinion about Bébé already, and those who haven't will be questioning the wisdom of Sir Alex Ferguson in taking a chance on such an unknown quantity. I admit it, I'm right there with you, although my attention is borne out of curiosity rather than passion. The step up from the II Divisão to the Liga Zon Sagres is hard enough, one which few players have made successfully in recent times. The Premier League? All bets are off. As fans, we'd all like to think that our clubs employ meticulous scouting networks, leaving no stone unturned in their quest to wring maximum value from the cash we so willingly provide them with, season after season. Bébé represents the other side, a leap of serious financial faith, if you will. I only hope that Manchester United fans treat him as such.

Ben will be writing regularly for IBWM, but if you would like to read more from him please visit cahiers du sport.