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In the January 2018 transfer window, Portuguese midfielder Bebé signed a three-year deal with Spanish club Rayo Vallecano and may, at last, have found a home. Many players experience a nomadic career in the modern professional game, but for someone brought up in an orphanage, the signing may have ended a search on a much more personal level. After his parents divorced, along with his siblings, the youngster was left in the care of his beloved grandmother, before an unruly 12-year-old became too much for the elderly lady to manage, and the young Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, christened as ‘Bebé’ (baby) by an older brother, was put into the care of the Casa do Gaiato shelter.
For many, such an institution can be a time of loneliness and isolation, but for Bebé the experience was very different. He learnt to read and write under the shelter’s pastoral care and, perhaps more importantly acquired a love of football whilst playing massed and often unruly games with other boys at the institute. “Growing up in Gaiato was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he would later relate. “It made me who I am. Everyone I met at Casa do Gaiato helped make me a better person.”
The more mature Bebé left the Gaiato with a love of the game and an ambition to use the abilities he had, signing for Portuguese second tier amateur club Estrela da Amadora. Despite starring in his first term there, financial problems beset the club and, after failing to sell their midfielder to ease problems, a default on wages allowed Bebé freedom from his contract and he moved to Vitória de Guimarães in 2010. It would be an extremely brief stay with Os Conquistadores, though. Performances in pre-season saw the club quickly raise the ‘buy out’ clause in his contract after netting five goals in six games.
By this time, the midfielder had changed agent. His former representative, Goncalo Reis, had failed to make any headway in promoting his charge’s talents around various clubs, and the 20-year-old turned instead to the wily and widely connected super-agent Jorge Mendes. The decision would reap quick rewards.
A little over five weeks after moving to Guimarães, and without ever playing an official game for the club, a deal was struck for the youngster to move to Old Trafford. Perhaps mainly due to the way things turned out for him at the Theatre of Dreams, the background to his arrival with the Red Devils remains shrouded in mystery. Sir Alex Ferguson openly admitted he didn’t watch him play in the flesh, insisting that the signing was made on the recommendation of his then assistant, Carlos Queiroz. The latter being Portuguese, and having an intimate knowledge of the game and players there, lends credence to the claim. It’s one that Queiroz has denied, however, claiming that he had never even heard of the player before he arrived at the club. The wiles and business ways of Jorge Mendes often confound, their wonders to perform.
For all that, Bebé is quick to commend the attitude of his new manager. “From day one, my relationship with Sir Alex was like what a father has with his son. He is a person who trusted me without even seeing me play. It is impossible to forget someone like that.” Having fellow Portuguese-speaking player Anderson also helped, and the Brazilian eased the newcomer into the club.
If gaining a foothold in the club’s culture was one thing, getting into the first team action, was much more problematic. Drawing conclusions on a player’s ability based on mere game time enjoyed can be perilous but, a mere two league appearances in four seasons as a Manchester United player, which also included loan spells with Beşiktaş in Turkey – although a serious injury stymied much of time with the Super Lig club – together with time spent at Rio Avenue and Paços de Ferreira back in his native Portugal, suggest that here was a player probably advanced beyond his capabilities at the time. Altogether, with his time with Manchester United, and the loan periods, he would play a mere 50 league games across the four years. It’s perhaps little wonder why both Ferguson and Queiroz were keen to distance themselves from the decision to lay out a reported £9 million for the player, and why his charges view the merits of agent Mendes so highly.
It’s hardly therefore surprising that an offer from Benfica in July 2014 persuaded United to cut their losses on the player, and ship him out. It’s also a compliment to the great and continuing abilities of Mendes, that the agent produced a transfer to another top line cub, and one where Bebé would quickly acquire a winner’s medal as the Águias won the 2014 Supercup in December. By the following month however, much as with Manchester United, Benfica appeared to have realised that there was little future for the midfielder in Lisbon, and moved the player out on loan to Spanish club Córdoba until the end of the season, followed by another loan to La Liga club Rayo Vallecano for the 2015-16 season, a term that saw the Madrid-based club relegated, with Bebé three goals in 34 league appearances offering little solace to the forlorn cause.
The end of the season saw the player then moved on again, as he travelled around the clubs on the Iberian peninsula, now landing with Eibar and a four-year deal. As with so many of his other moves though, such contractual aspirations were more observed in theory than practice. A first season of five strikes in 26 games from midfield, across all competitions, from midfield, was reasonable enough, but things then deteriorated. With a mere nine league appearances recorded in the 2017-18 season, a loan in January back to Rayo Vallecano, still in the Segunda División at the time, saw a much-improved display, and Rayo achieved promotion back to the top-tier. It persuaded the club to seek a permanent deal with Eibar and a three-year deal was agreed.
Professional football can be a financially rewarding experience, but also a cruel manipulator of careers, sending players on multiple journeys as if some wandering minstrel looking for a permanent gig. With the deal to take Bebé to Madrid now more than a year old though, it may be the case that this particular nomad has found a home. For a player with such a history, it would be a pleasant interlude, if not perhaps a conclusion. Now 28 years old, perhaps the wanderings of Bebé are over – at least for a while.