What a difference a year makes. For all the revisionism currently spouted about the significance of acquiring Hernandez the headline transfer involving Manchester United of last summer was undoubtedly Tiago Manuel Dias Correia (better known to you and I as Bebe). To say the purchase was out of the blue would be the mother of all under-statements as keyboard warriors throughout the land impatiently sought out information about the mysterious new signing. As is the norm with anything to do with Manchester United, opinion quickly became divided into three camps: the unthinking ‘BELIEVE’ cult who declared a shoddy YouTube video to be ample evidence of a rough diamond, the anti-United group quick to deride and mock player they had no knowledge of, and the rest (like myself) who adopted a slightly bemused ‘wait and see’ policy.
So what did we actually know of the new signing? I confess to enjoying the howls of disbelief at the minimal information in the saturated media age – ‘He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia!’ As details of the player trickled out it began to feel that here was a modern fairytale. Unwanted streetkid is plucked from obscurity by the consummate philanthropists at Old Trafford. What’s more; the kid sounded a genuine steal after being ‘whipped from under the noses’ of Real Madrid. Further ammunition to ‘cuss the haterz’ arrived when it transpired that no less a football expert than Carlos Queiroz had recommended him to Ferguson. Our unquestionable leader didn’t even need to see the lad play, such was the need for speed. ‘Sometimes,’ revealed our wise sage, ‘you have to go on an instinct.’ Bebe himself showed admirable self-confidence in the face of doubts declaring ‘I am going to be a brilliant player for Manchester United.’
Sadly for the starry-eyed youngster things did not quite go according to plan and today we learn that he is likely to move to Besiktas on loan with a view to a permanent transfer for less than half the sum paid to bring him to Manchester. Off the field he was the victim of consistent mockery from the dignified British press who rightly took advantage of any opportunity to belittle a 20-year-old who had been in care since the age of 12. On the field little evidence was offered to counter the accusation that here was an error of judgment approaching ‘George Weah’s cousin’ proportions. The believers clung desperately to the solitary goal (fittingly in Turkey) as evidence of a developing talent but it was abundantly clear to all who saw him on first team or reserve duty that not only was he nowhere near Manchester United quality but significantly he showed minimal signs of having the potential to ever get there. You have to wonder what players like Josh King and Will Keane made of the performances of the expensive signing who presented another barrier to their chances of reaching the first team.
So what is the problem? I have always admired the willingness of Ferguson to take a chance on youth and hope this continues. The stratospheric rise of our other junior foreign recruit shows the benefits of getting them young and cheap. Sometimes transfers don’t work out – for every Chicharito there is a Tosic or a Manucho. If Bebe really was a complete dud surely he wouldn’t have been decorated with international honours at Under-21 level for Portugal? Perhaps I am dragging the good name of Manchester United through the mud over a simple case of a risky signing not paying off; it won’t be the first nor the last time that this happens.
However by comparison to Hernandez, Bebe wasn’t cheap. Chicharito was a full international, had already proved himself at a competitive level for Chivas and was just about to embark on a World Cup campaign for his country. This is a far cry from a lad still living in a home who had thus far only played professionally for a third division side. How could so much be risked on a deal where the odds on the player succeeding were so long from the start? I see little point in regurgitating the story of his acquisition when it has been articulately explained already by David Conn here. I cannot help but feel that this whole chain of events has a distinctly murky feel. Jorge Mendes, key figure in the deals for Nani, Anderson and Ronaldo, takes over as Bebe’s agent in suspicious circumstances. Bebe is acquired supposedly from under the noses of Real Madrid – a club managed by another high-profile Mendes client in Jose Mourinho. Bebe is recommended to United by Carlos Queiroz- a client of, you’ve guessed it, Jorge Mendes. From the initial transfer Mendes made over three million Euros. I don’t know how much Mendes stands to earn from the reported Turkish deal but it would be safe to say his services will not be free of charge.
So how do United benefit from facilitating the Super Agent’s growing bank balance? On the eve of the Champions League final a deal was announced by Manchester United which would bring the man identified as the perfect replacement for Edwin van der Sar to Old Trafford. All seemed well until a short time afterwards the player, the player’s club and the player’s lawyer disputed the claim and what appeared a savvy piece of business now appears an unpleasant mess. An unpleasant mess that the football world still fully expects will result in the young Spanish custodian turning out for Manchester United in the coming season. The dispute appears to centre on how the deal was put together – seemingly without the involvement of the player’s representative. If that sounds familiar it should – the man responsible for arranging the deal? One Jorge Mendes.
Many of you might accuse me of naivety or even nostalgia for a simpler time. As former pizza salesman Mino Raiola has demonstrated, the age of the super agent is here. The club’s sour dealings with Kia Joorabchian has understandably led to concerns about who we do our business with so on those grounds having a close, mutually beneficial relationship with the well-connected, successful Mendes seems to make good business sense. This hopeless idealist worries at what cost. The fairytale that brought a disadvantaged young man the chance to achieve his dream far from ending happily ever after has ended with him being farmed out to yet another new country and his career seemingly on the slide having barely begun. The crowing satisfaction of supposedly respected football writers and disgraceful ‘good riddance’ comments from so-called Reds has somewhat poisoned my twitter feed today.
Some of you might point to the vast improvement in Bebe’s financial situation as a positive overall outcome; yet for this old romantic the systematic creation and devastation of a young man’s dream for financial gain makes me love this sport and my club that little bit less.
Like what you’ve read? Follow me on twitter @TomPattison