When the Champions League group draw pitted Manchester United against Turkish champions Bursaspor, several eyebrows were raised. Who was this team from northern Turkey and could they cause an upset against football’s elite (or ‘world giants’, as their coach Ertugrul Saglam said in his pre-match press conference)?
But, when all was said and done, any potential banana-skin style slip-up was averted. United kept their cool in a typical volatile Turkish stadium and ran out 3-0 winners in what proved to be a routine victory on Tuesday evening. When pondering whom to thank, United fans need look no further than their team’s number 33, Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, despite the fact he only played half an hour.
Bébé, as he is better known, was one of the summer’s more bizarre signings. True to recent form, Sir Alex Ferguson kept recruitments to a minimum, preferring promotion from within. Whilst he did dabble in the transfer market, total spending was kept to a ‘restrained’ £20 million. Enter Chris Smalling, Javier Hernandez and Bébé. Each was acquired to the tune of £7 million, yet, with all due respect, all had limited reputations.
In June 2008, their respective situations were far from the glamour of the Premier League. Smalling was playing non-league football with Maidstone United, where he played 12 games before being snapped up by Fulham. Hernandez was heralded within the shores of Mexico, yet unheard of elsewhere. And Bébé was living in a homeless shelter in Portugal. Fast-forward to autumn of 2010 and they’re lining up alongside Messrs. Rooney, Scholes, Berbatov and co. To put it lightly, each has experienced rises of an astronomical nature.
The ‘rags to riches’ analogy is oft bandied about in today’s X-Factor-obsessed world. Yet when examining Bébé’s past, no term is more fitting. Cared for by a church shelter in the suburbs of Lisbon, growing up at a time when other diamonds such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma and now teammate Luis Nani were being uncovered in the very same city, ascension to stardom looked unlikely.
This was increased when an invitation to participate in the Homeless World Cup of 2009 was ultimately not taken up.
But the wily Ferguson pounced on Bébé’s potential in the summer of 2010 after former United number two, Carlos Querioz, alerted him to this exciting talent who had recently moved from Portuguese second division side Estrela de Amadora to Primeira Liga outfit Vitoria de Guimares.
The only downfall to such a capture was that, due to contractual obligations, United had to shell out around € 9 million for a player who had moved on a free and hadn’t played a single competitive game. Money well spent? The press had their doubts.
But Ferguson was looking at the bigger picture. Bébé oozed potential and a successful pre-season convinced the Manchester United hierarchy to part with their money.
The future’s looking bright for the Portuguese player and, with two goals in his last two games (albeit, cup games), the only way is up.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.