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Evra relies on faith for season finale

May 12, 2012 Tags: , , Matches 176 comments

The final weekend, and another title won or lost for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. The drama, so those in charge of TV schedules tell us, couldn’t be greater, with the Premier League decided at the 38th game of another unpredictable season. Yet, for many Manchester United fans it is a campaign ending in an altogether more underwhelming fashion. Not so much last day glory, as after the lord mayor’s show. After all, bar a truly shocking result at Eastlands on Sunday, the Premier League title will head to Manchester City for the first time in 44 years.

City host relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers, while United travel to Martin O’Neil’s Sunderland, and the Blues’ superior goal difference will separate Reds and Blues should points remain equal at 5pm Sunday afternoon.

If City does claim the Premier League as expected then few can begrudge Roberto Mancini’s outfit the glory, with the men in Blue having proven the more durable side during the last month of the campaign. Words not often spoken during Ferguson’s 25-year reign at Old Trafford. It is the least that Abu Dhabi could expect for its £930 million investment in club and players. And, many will argue, the inevitable outcome of six years under-investment by the Glazer family at Old Trafford.

Not that many offers of congratulations will cross the great Manchester divide whatever Sunday’s results. Nine months, 76 games, 178 goals, and 172 points later – and one half of the city is sure to head home disappointed.

The weekend’s fixtures mean that more than one eye will be on City’s game back in Manchester while United take on Sunderland, although the hope that Mark Hughes’ QPR side will pull off a shock result will be rendered meaningless if United do not win at the Stadium of Light.

Indeed, claiming three points on Wearside could still pose a challenge, with O’Neil’s side having finished the season strongly enough to avoid relegation under Norther Irishman’s stewardship.

“It’s not going to be easy for us up there and we know that,” said Ferguson on Friday.

“We’re going there with a chance of winning the league and you know it’ll never be easy. These last-day games where have a chance of winning the league, three times we’ve won it and once we lost it at West Ham. They’re not easy.

“It doesn’t matter if Bolton win, QPR still have to get a point. Can it really transmit itself to players if other teams are losing? If they’re down with five minutes to go or something like that, but I don’t think it works that way.

“I think the disappointment of City losing the game would be unbelievable and untold at this moment in time [as regards] what effect it could have on them. QPR are at the other end of the spectrum, some players could be put on the transfer list, salaries halved and things like that. Relegation would have a dramatic effect on the club. There’s two ends of the spectrum but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we don’t win. We have to focus on that – that’s our job.”

Sunderland versus Manchester United, Premier League, Stadium of Light, 13 May 2012, 3pm.In a campaign where United will finish trophyless for the first time since 2005 should results go against Ferguson’s side, the Scot says analysis of a difficult campaign can wait until the final result. Indeed, focusing on the positive, Ferguson claims that the development of United’s youngsters mean that this is less the ‘end of an empire’, but a season of transition. Time will tell whether the Scot is right given United’s likely strategic decision not to invest at the top of the market in the coming summer.

“I think we can think about that after the events and analyse it properly,” adds the 70-year-old, who has won 12 Premier League titles in 19 seasons.

“There’s no point doing it now as nothing’s been decided and it’s the last game of the season, which is fantastic for the neutral and the media but agony for both clubs. We do tend to get there in the end but it looks like we’re going to miss out this season.

“We’re not looking as though it’s the end of an era for us. In many ways, it’s the start of one for us. The challenge will be really obvious to them [the players] now. If they lose the league, as we did with Chelsea a couple of years ago, we did something about it. Hopefully, we can do so again.”

Ferguson will have to shuffle his pack once again, with injuries ruling out Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Danny Welbeck. It has been the story of the campaign – Anderson, Darren Fletcher, Nemanja Vidić and Michael Owen will all still be missing from Ferguson’s first team squad for the trip to Wearside.

Injuries mean the Scot may have to pair Rio Ferdinand with Phil Jones in central defence, while Rafael or Fabio da Silva will start at right-back. Javier Hernández is likely to keep his place along side Wayne Rooney in attack in what will be Dimitar Berbatov’s last game for the club. Michael Owen, also out of contract this summer, is unlikely to make the match day squad.

Whatever the selection for Sunday’s match Ferguson faces the challenge of raising his team’s spirits after the flat performance against Swansea last weekend. United beat the Welsh side 2-0 at Old Trafford having already seen City dispatch Newcastle in the north east. Indeed, if the mood in United’s camp has been downcast this week it will come as little surprise. But there is little point in self pity – after all Ferguson’s side has blown the eight point lead it held barely a month ago.

“At the beginning of the week, the team was really down,” said United captain Patrice Evra admitted.

“And we were really down before the game against Swansea last weekend because we expected a little miracle from Newcastle. But it didn’t happen. Now we just believe. We’re level on points going into the final day.

“Maybe people will say I’m crazy or that I’m only saying this because I’m a Manchester United player, but I still believe we can win this title. I know the destiny of the title is not in our hands, but we will just make sure we start the game well against Sunderland.

“It’s not an easy place to go but I think we will win in front of all their fans. We have no choice but to believe. If we want to keep believing in the miracle we have to beat Sunderland. If we score first, maybe the City fans in the stadium will start to be nervous. When you are nervous, you rush things and you don’t do the things you want to do. That’s why I still believe, but we must make sure we are ready against Sunderland.”

Meanwhile, Sunderland manager O’Neil has injury concerns of his own heading into the game. Former United players Wes Brown and Kieron Richardson miss the tie through injury, while Seb Larsson is also out. However, fit again Titus Bramble should start for the Black Cats.

Whatever O’Neil’s selection, United need to run out winners. The omens are good – the home side has little to play for, chasing neither a European place, nor threatened by relegation – and United’s four victories in the past five matches at the Stadium of Light bode well. Meanwhile, Sunderland has drawn five of the side’s last seven Premier League matches, and won only two in the last 12, while United has lost only twice in 17.

Pressure can tell though, with United folding under it in recent weeks, and City thriving much against the Blues’ typecast. But it’s the  pressure that Evra and his United players hope brings out the worst in Mancini’s City side over at Eastlands Sunday afternoon.

The odds look slim, but as Evra concludes, all that is left now is belief.

Match Facts
Sunderland versus Manchester United, Premier League, Stadium of Light, 13 May 2012, 3pm.

Likely Line-ups
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet; Bardsley, Turner, Bramble, O’Shea; Cattermole, Gardner, Colback, McClean; Sessegnon, Ji Dong-Won. Subs from: Westwood, Kilgallon, Bridge, Meyler, Elmohamady, Campbell, Bendtner.

United: (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Jones, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Amos, Lindegaard, Fabio, Fryers, Cleverley, Giggs, Park, Nani, Berbatov, Owen.

Form
Sunderland: DLDDDL
United: WLWLDW

Match Stats

  • Swansea worked the United midfield hard last weekend with Michael Carrick covering the most distance individually from either team at 7.39 miles;
  • Compared against other Premier League strikers Wayne Rooney is ranked fifth for distance covered this season at 191.7 miles in total this season. Fulham’s Clint Dempsey has covered the most ground of any striker;
  • Rooney is ranked second overall in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index having scored 26 league goals this season – he is the highest scoring Englishman this season, four behind Robin van Persie;
  • Rooney has picked up just the one yellow card this season;
  • Patrice Evra is the highest ranked player in the Index to have not scored a goal this season. The United captain has however completed 73.2 per cent of all the tackles he attempted;
  • Lee Cattermole has been one of Sunderland’s hardest players to beat this season, having completed 68.6 per cent of all tackles attempted – he has won 72 tackles this season;
  • Cattermole’s best game this season came against West Bromwich Albion on the 1 October 2011 – when the midfielder attempted 22 tackles, completing 16 at 72.27 per cent won;
  • Ahmed Elmohamady is the only Egyptian player in the Premier League this season and has managed just three shots on target, scoring one goal in the process.

Officials
Referee: Howard Webb (Rotherham)
Assistants: P Kirkup, M Mullarkey
Fourth Official: L Probert

Bébé: a deal gone wrong from the start

June 16, 2011 Tags: Opinion 56 comments

Reserve forward Tiago Manuel Dias Correia – Bébé – will join Beşiktaş on loan for the 2011/12 season, netting Manchester United a €1 million fee in the process. The Portuguese under-21 international, 20, could join the Turkish Süper Lig side permanently although there is no ‘option to buy’ built into the contract as widely reported. But if he does, United will lose more than £5 million on a deal that remains the strangest of Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford.

Bébé’s acquisition has proven to be a disaster and not simply because at €9 (£7.4) million supporters might have expected more from the 20-year-old but because the raw materials were simply lacking in the former Vitória de Guimarães player from the start. The forward scored six goals in 13 appearances for United’s reserves in the past season, and two in seven for the first team. But Ferguson’s decision to countenance a loan abroad brings the Scot’s faith in the player’s long-term development into question.

Indeed, it was a transfer that had a bizzare nature from the start: the inflated fee for a player who had never performed above the third tier previously, a last-minute change of agent, and the player’s albeit heart-warming rags-to-riches personal story.

There is more than a hint of financial mismanagement about the deal though. The £7.4 million fee, 30 per cent of which was handed-over to Jorge Mendes’ GestiFute agency, was paid for a player ‘flipped’ by Guimarães. Bébé had joined Guimarães on a free-transfer from third division outfit Estrala da Amadora just five weeks previously but did not play for the higher-ranked club in a competitive game. Mendes, in turn, had represented Bébé for less than a fortnight.

Nice work if you can get it.

Yet United bought out the player’s contract release fee, reportedly on the recommendation of former assistant manager Carlos Queiroz, now the former-Portugal national coach, with Ferguson meeting the player just once 48 hours before ink had dried on the contracts. Famously Ferguson had never seen Bébé play before agreeing to the transfer. Something about the story has always felt false.

Further mystery is added by United’s audited annual accounts, which showed a post-balance sheet transaction of £8.3 million was paid in respect of player registrations after 30 June, 2010. Quite where the additional £900,000 went is anybody’s guess but rumours of further agent involvement refuse to die down.

Aside from the financial shenanigans the deal also represents everything that can go wrong in a badly planned transfer. For all the credit that Ferguson rightly claims in signing Mexican Javier Hernández, Bébé represents the counter-point. United apparently scouted Hernández for weeks, sending Jim Lawler to Mexico to thoroughly research both the player and man. It worked, with United securing what has now proven the season’s bargain. At £7 million, with further add-ons, United could more than triple Hernández’ fee if sold on the open market today.

Yet the club’s behaviour in signing Bébé, seemingly on a whim, negates successes elsewhere. Certainly if finances are a primary reason for Ferguson’s bragging over Hernández then more than £5 million wasted on Bébé must also be held to account. The two approaches cannot be reconciled.

Bébé will join four other Portuguese at Beşiktaş, including Ricardo Quaresma, Simão Sabrosa, Hugo Almeida and Manuel Fernandes – all of which are GestiFute clients. Has Mendes done United a favour moving Bébé on or simply double-dipped on the deal? After all, Mendes has built a certain reputation in the industry. The agent, some might say, can sell ice to Esikmos, coals to Newcastle and homeless duds to wealthy Premier League outfits.

There is more to this line-of-thinking too, with Mendes also agent to José Mourinho who many believe will take the reigns at Old Trafford one day. Mendes is also favourite to snap up Old Trafford-bound David de Gea when the Spaniard’s contract with Hector Rincon ends on 31 June. de Gea will become the fourth GestiFute client on United’s books, including Bébé, Nani and Anderson.

It is also hard to see where United can turn the deal around unless Bébé matures beyond expectation at the Black Eagles in Turkey. More likely, if Bébé plays little – there is a complicated ‘foreigners’ rule in the Süper Lig – then the player may simply return to Old Trafford next summer virtually unsellable.

In this there is also sympathy for the man who has been shunted from club-to-club in the past year, seemingly at the will of agents. Roy Keane’s assertion that players are little more than “meat” comes to mind.

Bébé’s dream has turned sour because he did not have the talent to fulfil it at Old Trafford, even though he has worked hard to develop. The actions of those who signed-off on the deal are yet to be brought to account.

Where did the Bébé money go?

October 28, 2010 Tags: Opinion 17 comments

Reports that 30 per cent of the transfer fee Manchester United paid for Bébé – Tiago Manuel Dias Correia – went to agent Jorge Mendes raises further questions about the intriguing deal. United reportedly paid €9 million for the 20-year old when he joined from Vitória de Guimarães in August, with €5.5 million going to the Portuguese outfit.

Mendes’ agency Gestifute received the remaining €3.5 million for its share in Bébé, reports Portuguese sports paper O Jogo. United told the Telegraph on Thursday that the club had not directly paid Gestifute any money for its role in the deal.

Still, the report once again raises the spectre of third-party player ownership, with the practice now outlawed in the Premier League following Carlos Tevez’ controversial transfer to West Ham United in 2006. Quite how Gestifute came to ‘own’ a third of Bébé’s registration is as yet unexplained.

The O Jogo article also caused widespread media confusion in the UK, with both Talksport and Sport.co.uk incorrectly reporting United had picked up a £4.8 million “bargain” in Bébé.

The Gestifute agency has become a powerhouse in Portuguese football and now represents some of the leading figures in or from the country, including Nani, Anderson, Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho. Indeed, Vitória offered glowing praise of the agency on completion of the Bébé deal earlier this year. No wonder, as Vitória effectively flipped Bébé, signing the forward on a free transfer in June and then selling him on for a fee without a competitive game played.

The €9 million fee – £7.9 million at today’s exchange rate, although widely reported as £7.4 million – was roughly confirmed in notes to United’s end-of-year accounts. The audited annual figures show a post-balance sheet transaction of £8.3 million was paid in respect of player registrations after 30 June, 2010.

Bébé was United’s sole transfer window acquisition post the 30 June accounting deadline for the 2009/10 financial year, although Dutch youngster Gyliano van Velzen also joined the club. No fee has yet been agreed between United and van Velzen’s former club Ajax while a dispute over his international clearance continues.

If the distinction between the £8.3 million figure reported in United’s accounts and the widely reported £7.4 million fee is as yet unexplained – United’s press office could not confirm the fee at time of going to press – then more details may yet emerge when Vitória President Emilio Macedo addresses the club’s annual General Assembly on Friday.

Some costs are known however. Signing on bonuses paid to the player are included in United’s salary not acquisition costs within the accounts, with Bébé believed to earn just £90,000 per year. Should the player perform to expectations the Portuguese will see his salary rise sharply.

Meanwhile, no clarification of how Gestifute distributed its profits on the deal has yet been made. The role or profit of other agents or Bébé’s former club Estrela da Amadora may yet become clearer in time.

Whatever the true figures, Bébé’s transfer remains controversial despite the player’s promising full début against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Carling Cup on Tuesday. The 20-year-old was deployed in a wide right role and scored, albeit with a heavy deflection, in United’s 3-2 win.

There is, of course, a long way to go before a promising performance against a much changed Wolves side justifies the £7.4 – £8.3 million United apparently spent on bringing the player to Old Trafford. In the annals of United’s history Bébé’s remains one of the strangest; that Sir Alex Ferguson has not previously seen the player, the high fee for effectively a third division player, and the role of Gestifute in the deal.

No suggestion of financial impropriety is made of course but in an era of apparent austerity for United, with £720 million debt on the club or parent company’s books, Bébé remains an extravagance. This sentiment is all the more stark given other transfers this summer – the £8 million paid by Tottenham Hotspur for Rafael van der Vaart and £12.4 million paid to Werder Bremen by Real Madrid for Mesut Özil, for example.

And in media terms it’s the story that keeps on giving. One suspects that this week’s revelations over the transfer fee are not the last in Bébé’s time at Old Trafford.

Fergie claims Bébé progress

September 22, 2010 Tags: Shorts 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson has insisted that Manchester United supporters will witness the progress made by Bébé, who will make his first team début against Scunthorpe United in the Carling Cup tonight. United paid Vitória de Guimarães £7.4 million in August for the 20-year-old winger in one of the most surprising deals this summer.

Claiming “exceptional circumstances” provoked the deal, Ferguson admits that the winger’s signature is a leap in the dark. The deal has been the subject of significant scrutiny, both by supporters and the media in recent weeks.

But Ferguson says that early criticism of the player is unfair and the fitness work undertaken by United will pay dividends this season.

“We have a scout in Portugal where we asked him about this young player playing in second division in Portugal,” Sir Alex told CNN International today.

“There was a complication apparently in his contract which allowed him to leave to go to Guimarães and he’d only played three of four games and our scouts insisted that we should sign him.

“It was a bit of a leap into the dark really because we hadn’t seen him play, we sent down one of our scouts down with Antonio from Portugal to see him play in the last game before we signed him and then he comes up and says ‘there’s something exceptional here, we’ll maybe seeing something really special’, and so we took the gamble – we took the gamble.

“I think Real Madrid and Benfica were starting to move in, it was one of those instinctive things, you have a smell about something and you take it.

“Physically, he wasn’t ready, hasn’t done a proper pre-season, so the last few weeks since he’s joined, we’ve been working on him physically. He’s now played one reserve game and he’ll be involved in the team tomorrow at Scunthorpe and you’ll see the progress now.”

Bébé made his reserve team début against Aston Villa last week. Ferguson was speaking to CNN International:

Bébé’s big chance to impress

September 22, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 11 comments

Bébé will play tonight against Scunthorpe United in the Carling Cup second round, with supporters wondering if the £7.4 million Portuguese winger has what it takes to be a Manchester United player. The 20-year-old has featured in just two Under-21 fixtures and a reserve game since his surprise transfer from Vitória de Guimarães in August.

While it is nothing new for Sir Alex Ferguson to spend millions on a player there is perhaps more interest in Bébé’s début than any other in recent times. The intrigue about the financial aspect of the deal, together with the rags-to-riches story of the player’s rise to professional football, have ensured as much.

Indeed, so little is known about the player that he has garnered far more press interest than similarly priced acquisitions at United in recent seasons. The handful of games United supporters have witnessed Bébé play to date have offered little conclusive proof of the player’s ability to make it at Old Trafford or otherwise.

In the three fixtures since the 11 August transfer United supporters have seen Bébé look somewhat uncomfortable in a lone-striker’s role against England Under-21, score against Macedonia Under-21 and impress with his pace – if not crossing accuracy – against Aston Villa reserves. Not that the player has any doubts about his future with the club.

“After a couple more games I will be better,” the player told the Manchester Evening News last week.

“I have to be fitter because it’s a different type of football in England. I am going to be a brilliant player for Manchester United.

“I don’t know when I will be ready for the first team. I need to work hard and a lot depends on the boss whether he calls me into the team or not.

“Sir Alex has told me he is very happy with me and he wants me to train more and get into the first team.”

But Bébé’s confidence hasn’t stopped the spotlight falling firmly on the deal, with the Daily Mail printing a series of negative articles about the Agualva-Cacém-born forward.

In many ways the deal for Bébé is achronistic of our times, with global scouting networks now so advanced boys as young as eight are transported across continents to sign for the world’s biggest clubs. That United failed to sign the player for a reported fee of €150,000 last January is matched in its wastefulness only by the knowledge Bebé was available for free earlier this summer.

Vitória’s financial gain is United’s loss of course, but if the failure of the club’s scouts to spot Bébé’s talent earlier has cost United financially, then the game’s money-men are probably at the root of the matter. After all the very late injection into the deal of Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese agent who has represented some of the leading lights in the nation including Jose Mourinho,  almost certainly increased the cost.

Mendes’ appointment as Bébé’s agent, it is said, precipitated the sacking of the player’s original representative just days before United bought out the €9 million release clause. That Vitória offered Bébé a new contract in the week before United pounced, increasing the release clause fee, only adds to the aura of suspicion around the deal.

After all, it’s not the first time United has overpaid for a Portuguese player, with Cristiano Ronaldo available for at least £7 million less than his eventual fee  just weeks earlier than his 2003 transfer to Old Trafford. Anderson and to a lesser extent Nani also commanded higher fees than their status suggested when they transferred to United in summer 2007.

Moreover, some of the club’s transfer dealings at the lower end of the market can be called into question over the past five years. The site of a palpably under-qualified Dong Fangzou in a United shirt brought fewer questions than it should have. Manucho Gonçalves, another Portuguese-influenced import, was hardly qualified to play for the club either. He now plays for newly promoted Turkish Süper Lig outfit Burcaspor.

Similar questions will rightly be asked of the deals for Gabriel Obertan and Mame Biram Diouf if, as many suspect, neither makes it at United. Just as they have been of the Serbian winger Zoran Tošić and Diego Forlan before.

None of that is Bébé’s fault of course but the pressure of scrutiny is already bearing down on a player, who by all accounts, is on the very raw side.

As such Bébé cannot succeed against Scunthorpe. A strong performance is mitigated by the quality of opposition; failure and the finger of blame will search for those whom sanctioned the deal.

Nobody puts Bebé in the reserves… until now!

September 16, 2010 Tags: Shorts 12 comments

Daily Mail rejoice! Portuguese forward Bebé will play for Manchester United reserves tonight. The fixture against Aston Villa will be Bebé’s first match in England since the shock £7.4 million transfer from Vitória Guimarães in July. United has chosen not to select the forward until now, instead placing him on an intensive fitness programme.

However, Bebé – who’s full name is Tiago Manuel Dias Correia – has since appeared twice for his country’s Under-21 side and been through a further two weeks’ conditioning work at Carrington.

Less than three months ago, the 20-year-old was playing in the third tier of the Portuguese league with Estrela da Amadora before a contract dispute precipitated a free-transfer to first division out fit Vitória. Bébé spent just over a month with the club before joining United on Carlos Queiroz’ advice, even though Sir Alex Ferguson Ferguson admitted he had never seen him play.

Also involved with the reserve team tonight is Gabriel Obertan, the £3.5 million French winger who has missed the season’s start with an akle injury picked up on United’s North American tour.

With Antonio Valencia set to miss the remainder of the season with a broken leg and ankle ligament damage, both Obertan and Bebé have an opportunity to force their way into Ferguson’s first team planning.

Tonight’s match with Aston Villa at Moss Lane, Altrincham, is the reserves’ opening FA Premier Reserve League fixture, kick off 7pm, admission£5 adults, £3 concessions, season ticket holders and members free.

United: Sam Johnstone, Scott Wootton, Ritchie De Laet, Corry Evans, Reece Brown, Oliver Gill, Gabriel Obertan, Ravel Morrison, William Keane, Magnus Eikrem, Bebe, Marnick Vermijl, Conor Devlin, Robert Brady, Nick Ajose, John Cofie

Villa: Elliott Parish, Eric Lichaj, Derrick Williams, Ciaran Clark, Shane Lowry, Jonathan Hogg, Moustapha Salifou, Isaiah Osbourne, James Collins, Nathan Delfouneso, Barry Bannan, Durrell Berry, Andy Marshall, Arsenio Halfhuid, Daniel Johnson, Danny Devine

What provoked the Mail’s Bébé attack?

September 7, 2010 Tags: Opinion 62 comments

Manchester United’s Portuguese winger Bébé has sustained a consistent attack from the Daily Mail since the player signed three weeks ago. For a senior pro the Mail’s campaign, a series of 15 almost universally critical articles, would represent unprovoked vitriol. Against the callow Bébé, it’s professionally aggressive.

While United supporters are well versed in negative media articles, the Mail’s campaign has been remarkably savage, deriding the 20-year-old, whose full name is Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, as a “dud” and his signature as a “blunder” by the club. This, almost certainly, without having seen the player perform live until last Friday’s début for Portugal Under-21s against the team’s English counterparts.

The series culminates – to date at least – with a write up of the match that makes unrecognisable reading for any supporter who actually watched. Bébé began quietly as a central striker, before performing brightly on the right-flank in the second half.

But that’s the conclusion, the series begins with a deeply misguided critique of the player by the Mail’s Ian Ladyman, after Bébé failed to appear in United reserves’ fixture against Manchester City on 24 August – less than a fortnight after his signature.

“New Manchester United signing Bebe’s impact in training has been so modest that the Portuguese forward was left out of the club’s reserve squad last night,” writes Ladyman, having failed to contact the club for an explanation. Or ignored it if one was given.

“The former Vitoria Guimaraes player is taking so much time to settle that United reserve team boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided not to include him in the 16-man squad to face local rivals Manchester City.”

Except Ladyman’s piece wasn’t even true, with Bébé given time to build his fitness and strength on the training ground before the club will expose the youngster to competitive football at any level. After all, the winger hasn’t appeared in a club game above the semi-professional Portuguese Third division in a short professional career.

Then came another astonishingly inaccurate piece in the Mail’s sports pages, claiming that United’s reserve team coach had left Bebé out of a training match and criticised the player’s progress.

It went further, stating that United’s supporters felt “disquiet” over the transfer. Unsurprisingly, the Mail failed to quote a single fan to support its assertion. Not that anybody at Rant towers suggests the editor put in a phone call just now.

Then the dénouement in crass misguided opinion, masked as factual journalism, with the Mail stating United had once against left Bebé out of a reserve team fixture, this time against Oldham Athletic’s second string. Strange then that the player was away with Portugal Under-21s while this supposed snub was taking place.

To compound the error the paper – in an article it has since pulled from its website to cover the embarrassment – the Mail blasted Bébé for failing to make United’s Champions League 25-man squad. He had. While several media outlets also made the same error, the paper failed to fact check its editorial by placing a 30 second phone call into United’s press office.

The paper then followed up this series with an ‘exposé’ on the transfer, claiming United failed to sign the player for a mere £125,000 last January, with his then club Estrela da Amadora struggling financially and keen to offload a star asset. Legitimate criticism perhaps, although United could have signed the player for free in July this year. Semantics.

Indeed, this is the real problem with the Mail’s series – instead of analysing the economics behind what is still a bizarre transfer, the paper chose to launch a campaign of personal and unprovoked attacks on a young player still trying to make his way in the game despite, not because of, a difficult childhood.

Why? Because United has banned at least one Mail journalist from the club’s Friday press conferences according to manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Finally, Ladyman packed his bags and headed to Portugal to provide an insightful profile on the £7.4 million man. Far too little, too late. Many an observer might note that the Mail could have begun its coverage of Bebé’s arrival at Old Trafford this way. Despite the old adage to the contrary, the media is supposed to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Perhaps Bébé will have the final laugh though, with the forward scoring on only his second appearance for his nation’s Under-21 side today.

Fergie rails against media attacks

August 27, 2010 Tags: Opinion 8 comments

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.

“Before Christmas everybody will know his name”

August 17, 2010 Tags: Opinion 23 comments

Manchester United’s acquisition of Tiago Manuel Dias Correia – Bébé – for £7.4 million last week adds an attacking talent to Sir Alex Ferguson’s roster at Old Trafford. But the surprise nature of the deal, which was sealed in two days, left an information vacuum on the player who appeared in the Portuguese third division last season.

Indeed, the player’s rise to fame, fortune and the biggest stage in world football has come about with such remarkable speed that little is known by supporters about the player or his background aside from the widely reported fact that Bébé – orphaned as a child – spent time both in a children’s home and on the streets.

United’s manager described the player’s move as a fairytale given Bébé’s humble background, limited experience of professional football and the rapidity of the reds’ acquisition.

“It is one of those things that happens when you identify someone with potential. Normally you would assess someone over a longer period of time but other clubs were starting to have a look so we made a quick decision,” said Ferguson, who first met the player last Tuesday and has never seen the 20-year old perform live.

The quick decision has brought a talented if callow player to Old Trafford; following the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Anderson in moving from Portuguese football north to Manchester. Bébé, however, is a very different breed. One of the last street footballers. All raw talent and very little coaching.

“He’s an Under-19 Portuguese international who is very flexible and can play several positions on the field,” says Ricardo Valente, President of the Manchester United Supporters Club in Portugal, who is one of the few reds to have actually seen Bébé play live.

“Bébé is not a pure striker like Van Nistelrooy, Cole or even Hughes but he can play behind a striker and get some goals. He’s more a winger, who can be used on both flanks like Nani.”

He is a team player, adds Valente, who is quick, has two good feet, and can both score goals and provide assists. In this Bébé is more likely to provide competition for Antonio Valencia and Nani, alongside Gabriel Obertan and Ji-Sung Park, than United’s striking contingent.

Valente adds a warning though. Although undoubtedly talented Bébé will require time away from the spotlight to acclimatise to his new environment. Indeed, Ferguson echoed these words saying there’s little need to rush the player, who is yet to play a minute of competitive football above Portuguese third division level.

“The boy is not ready to play right now, he will need some time to adapt to United’s culture, understand our history and tradition, get to know his team mates and staff, and learn to speak English,” warns Valente.

“He’s not a player for United’s present; he’s a player for our future. The staff will now work on the boy and we could see some developments later in the season.

“But for now Nani, Rafael, Fábio and Anderson will help him to understand team mates.”

Cultural adaptation may indeed require time, with Bébé yet to speak any English, unlike motormouth Mexican recruit Javier Hernández whose excellent language skills already match those on the pitch.

United’s patience will be rewarded in a player for whom Real Madrid was just one of four clubs offering Vitória de Guimarães a transfer fee. It says much that Bébé chose Old Trafford over the competition.

“It’s an opportunity that has been given to me and I must grab it,” said Bébé today at Old Trafford.

“The strong Portuguese links here were a big thing for me. Ronaldo played here and he became a great player. Also, Nani and Anderson are here and I want to be like them and work hard to become a good player.”

Bébé’s rise to prominence has been so meteoric – he joined Vitória de Guimarães less than two months ago – that United’s scouting department missed out on the free transfer by a matter of weeks.

But the Portuguese league, although lacking success at European level since Porto’s Champions League win in 2004 under Jose Mourinho’s guidance, has become a feeding ground for talented youngsters, with the number of scouts from top clubs increasing in recent years.

“Top European teams are paying more attention to Portuguese League,” adds Valente.

“Some of them like Real Madrid, Olympique Lyon, Chelsea, AC Milan and United started sending their scouts on permanent basis to watch young players.

“Vitória de Guimarães’ president confirmed that seven top clubs were following Bébé. After five or six pre-season matches he was playing well and by then every scout knew him. United came and paid the money, like they did for Nani and Anderson.”

Although former United assistant manager Carlos Quieroz twice spoke with Ferguson about the transfer the real credit for the discovery goes to Toninho Cruz, the Portuguese scout hired by the Red Devils back in 2004. Indeed, Cruz has become a major asset to United in the region, adds Valente.

The £7.4 million fee and player’s lack of experience make the transfer high risk nonetheless. In the end, that great scouting will only prove value for money if the player makes it at Old Trafford.

Ferguson, of course, has built a reputation for developing younger players and bringing them through into the first team. The Scot has staked this season on a faith in youth – both those brought in at expense and players, such as Tom Cleverley, developed in United’s academy.

“Bébé will have the same treatment that others in the past, the boy will follow their lead and settle well at the club. He just needs some time now to understand what Manchester United is all about,” says Valente.

“But before Christmas everybody will know his name – and you can put that on paper.”