Sir Alex Ferguson has angrily criticised media reports that his surprise Portuguese signing Bebé has already disappointed Manchester United coaches. Several outlets have already dismissed the 20-year-old as a ‘flop’ after the winger was left out of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reserve team squad in the past week.
Ferguson says the player is short of fitness, not ability.
Hardly news perhaps with Ferguson thoroughly enjoying a hate-hate relationship with the English media over the course of his 24 years at the Old Trafford helm, although the strength of the Scot’s defence may surprise some on Fleet Street.
In the past week the Guardian, among other media outlets, reported that coaches were disappointed with Bebé attitude in training, precipitating exclusion from the reserves’ Manchester Senior Cup tie with neighbours City. This comes barely three weeks after the former Vitória de Guimarães player joined United in a £7.4 million deal.
Ferguson says reports are way off mark.
“Bebé is on a programme doing endurance work because his fitness levels are not near the ones we are at,” said the 69-year-old United manager.
“Other than that he has done well.
“I know he has had a couple of vicious attacks on him for why he wasn’t playing in the reserve game but he was never going to be playing on Tuesday. The boy did not deserve that.
“He is a young man trying to make his way in football. They didn’t need to do that. It was a really bitter attack. Ability-wise he is excellent. He is a terrific finisher.
“We have been very impressed with that. It is just the fitness levels he needs to get to.”
Ferguson has left himself open to criticism by signing – at great expense – a player who has never appeared in a senior match above Third Division level on the advice of scouts and not his own judgement of course. But the rush to print the hastily drafted knocking stories is premature, even for the nationals’ sports pages.
After all, the adjustment for a player not long out of amateur football, the streets and going nowhere fast, is likely longer than a superstar joining in a multi-million deal.
That is not to say Bebé will make it at Old Trafford of course, with evidence of the player’s ability scant at best, although better than anything Ferguson had seen before giving the green light to the deal.
Yet for all the jaded pages in the nation’s traditional media, this week’s criticism of Bebé is extreme and – perhaps ever more pertinent – based not on fact but wish-fulfilment. For journalists with little to write about despite the transfer market closing in four days, there is nothing better than a Ferguson-failure story.
The Daily Mail, which never one to let facts get in the way of a good story, called Bebé a “dud,” claiming that “dissenting voices will not be hushed until Bebe [sic] is seen scoring goals.”
Remarkably, after reporting “fans” as the source of apparent frustration with the player, the Mail failed to quote a single supporter in the piece. Not that anyone advocates Mail staff putting in a call to Rant Towers, mind you.
As for Ferguson, the Scot is unlikely to offer any bones to the media hordes any time soon. While the PR advice might be to become more open, stories such as those about Bebé this week make that prospect ever more distant.
The truth is this: Bebé may or may not make it at United. The transfer may indeed turn out one of the most expensive transfer mistakes of Ferguson’s career. There have been many.
It matters little at this stage though. After all Bebé has spent not a minute on the Old Trafford turf to date.