Bebe’s having teething problems at United

by William Abbs

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Two weeks have passed since Bebé was announced as Manchester United’s latest signing of the summer but the decision to invest £7m in the unknown Portuguese striker got even more intriguing this week when he was overlooked for selection for a reserve game against Manchester City. Bebé arrived in England amidst unsubstantiated reports that he had once turned out in the Homeless World Cup, but United’s coaching staff decided that he was not yet ready even for a place on the second string’s bench for the game in Hyde on Tuesday night.

It is still early days in Manchester for the 20-year-old, who has risen from the third tier of Portuguese football to the top flight of the English game in a matter of weeks, but his unheralded playing career to date and the inauspicious start to his time at United combine to raise the spectre of other notorious cases of transfer misadventure. Bebé is clearly a long way off his full United debut but, until he turns out for the first team, speculation will continue to grow that he could be a rival for Ali Dia as the most infamous signing in Premier League history.

Dia had played football at a comparable level to Bebé in France and Germany before he got a friend to pose as George Weah in a telephone call to then-Southampton manager Graeme Souness. Passing himself off as Weah’s cousin and a Senegalese international when in fact he was no closer to an international call-up for the African nation than I am, Dia earned a one-month contract and lasted 53 minutes in a game against Leeds before Souness realised the full extent of his error of judgement.

Bebé was signed on the recommendation of Carlos Queiroz – who almost certainly was not speaking with a Liberian accent at the time – and the size of the fee probably had more to do with the fact that it was the release clause in his contract with Vitória de Guimarães and United wanted a quick sale, rather than £7m being an accurate valuation of the player. United supposedly beat Real Madrid to Bebé’s signature but, considering that José Mourinho signed Mesut Özil shortly afterwards, it is difficult not to sense that Madrid won the battle that mattered.

Nonetheless, judging from the YouTube clips of the player that were available at the time of the transfer, Bebé has the speed and physical stature that a modern forward needs. He might not turn out to be United’s answer to Didier Drogba, or their alternative to Emmanuel Adebayor, but with a plethora of Portuguese speakers already at the club Bebé still has every chance of settling in to life in England and contributing to United’s campaign.

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