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Million Dollar Baby / One Day, One Transfer / Episode 25 /

This summer during the transfer window, So Foot returns every day of the week to a transfer that marked its time in its own way. For this 25e episode, back in 2010. A year after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid, Manchester United are spending 9 million euros to recruit a 20-year-old Portuguese winger named Bebé. A transfer signed Jorge Mendes, the only big winner in this story.

In 27 years on the Manchester United bench, Sir Alex Ferguson has had hundreds of players with different characteristics, origins and temperaments under his command. But all have one thing in common: they were validated by the Scottish coach before their arrival at the Red Devils. All but one: Baby. The Portuguese can then boast of being the only player who signed for Manchester United without Sir Alex Ferguson having seen him play on a football pitch. Not even a video on a VCR or DVD. Nothing. For the simple and good reason that the “spiritual father” of Cristiano Ronaldo trusted the advice of his former assistant Carlos Queiroz, who sold him the then 20-year-old winger as a future star. A nice joke.

From the orphanage to Old Trafford

To say that Tiago Manuel Dias Correia – his full name – had an eventful summer of 2010 is an understatement. As he comes out of a season with 4 goals in 26 games with Estrela da Amadora in the Portuguese third division, Bebé is looking for a new base since he has just terminated his contract with the Tricolors for reasons of unpaid wages, the club being on the verge of bankruptcy. And it is finally the Vitória de Guimarães, then in the Portuguese first division, which recovers it. Very quickly, Bones Conquistadors will not regret their choice, since the winger slams 5 pawns in 6 preseason friendlies. To the point of impressing his teammates. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t know him at all when he arrived, and no player on the team had heard of him before. But it was a nice surprisedescribes Tiago Targino, former Portuguese international hope. From the first training sessions, I knew he had something special. He was technical, he had a big shot and above all incredible speed. It was not normal for a young person of this age. » Bebé does not know it yet, but then he will never wear the Vitória jersey in an official match. Because after five short weeks spent in Guimarães, the Portuguese left the club for Manchester United, who did not hesitate for a second to drop 9 million, the price of his release clause.

And the least we can say is that everyone was surprised by this transfer. “I know that in football everything is possible, but it’s true that I did not expect itadmits Tiago Targino. He didn’t even play an official match with us! Well, I was very happy for him, especially since I was there when he heard the news, he was so happy, it was beautiful to see. » It must be said that until then, Bebé’s life has not really been a long calm river. Quite the contrary. Abandoned by his parents at a very young age, little Tiago Manuel Dias Correia then lived with his grandmother with his four brothers and sisters. The matriarch does not roll on gold, and Bebé is sent to the Caso Do Gaiato orphanage, where he lived until his departure for Guimarães. A difficult life, even if contrary to legend, he never lived on the street, nor participated in the Mondial des sans-abri. On the other hand, he had been preselected for the event, after having been spotted in 2009 at the European Street Football Festival disputed in Bosnia and to which he had been invited with seven other residents of the orphanage.

The shadow of Jorge Mendes

To understand how Bebé went from a football festival in Bosnia to Manchester United in a year, you have to take a look behind the scenes, where the shadow of one man hovers: Jorge Mendes. When he arrives at Vitória de Guimarães, Bebé is not represented by Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent, but by Gonçalo Reis, the man who managed to get him from D3 to D1. Except that as a thank you gift, he received on August 9, 2010 a letter dated August 5 in which Bebé announced to him that he was breaking his contract to be represented by Gestifute, the agency of Jorge Mendes. On August 11, Manchester United paid the release clause which had been increased from 3 to 9 million euros a few days earlier. A nice sum for Vitória de Guimarães who recovered the young winger for free five weeks earlier. And this, even if 3.6 of the 9 million landed in the pocket of Jorge Mendes who, oddly enough, is also the agent of Carlos Queiroz.

What strongly annoy Gonçalo Reis, who feels like the turkey of the farce and who files a complaint with FIFA, arguing that a transfer of such a sum “is not likely to be negotiated and finalized overnight” and “transfers of this nature and of this financial importance are the result of intense negotiations which sometimes take several weeks to be completed. » In 2012, the anti-corruption unit of the Ministry of Justice investigated this transfer without any result. It is ultimately only one transfer among many others in which Jorge Mendes is involved and takes a commission. So why Manchester United? There are rumors that the club still owe Mendes money following Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Real Madrid a year earlier. Either way, by then Bebé didn’t care about all the fuss and was enjoying his moment, as he confided years later to the DailyMail : “I was on the train when the president of the Vitória club called me. He told me that I had to go quickly to Jorge Mendes’ house. When I went there, Jorge told me: “Do you want to go to Manchester United? Yes? Come on, let’s go.” I didn’t believe him. Honestly, I thought he was joking. When I signed, I didn’t go to England straight away, but spent four days in Portugal. And I always thought everyone was joking. »

A little bridge to Ryan Giggs

Upon his arrival at Carrington, Manchester United’s training center, Bebé is welcomed by the Portuguese-speaking Nani – originally from Cape Verde like him – and Anderson, with whom he is staying for a few weeks. It is also the moment of truth for Sir Alex Ferguson who can finally see the prodigy sold to him by Carlos Queiroz. And the Scottish trainer quickly understood that the man with the dreadlocks was not the announced crack. To the point of forgetting his face very quickly, as Bebé later laughs: “I was in the locker room and I saw that he was looking for me. He told me to cut my hair, I would look better. So I cut them the same day. But in practice after, he didn’t even recognize me. I often walked past him, and he didn’t recognize me. He didn’t speak much, and I didn’t understand him. He has a very difficult accent, so I couldn’t understand a thing. He called me “Baby”. » However, “Baby” gives his maximum to training, where he even has the luxury of slamming a small bridge to Ryan Giggs, who did not necessarily appreciate: “He then said to me: “Go ahead and tell your mom you did that to Ryan Giggs!” »

Finally, Bebé will only come into play twice in the Premier League and will only play 7 small games with Manchester United. For two goals scored. Including one in the Champions League against Bursaspor allowing him to boast of having a ratio of one goal every 29 minutes in C1 with theRed Devils. Most of his time, the Portuguese therefore spends him on the bench, in the reserve team – where he planted 5 goals in 11 appearances – and especially on loan where he was sent to Beşiktaş in 2011, Rio Ave in 2012 and Paços de Ferreira in 2013. Before being sold 3 million euros to Benfica Lisbon, without it being known how much money Jorge Mendes received in the transaction. If Manchester United was, of course, too big for Bebé, now 31, the one who has been a Cape Verdean international since March 2022 remains a talented footballer. And it is not Rayo Vallecano, where he has been playing since 2017 – plus a one-year freelance in 2015 – and with whom he experienced two relegations and two promotions in La Liga who will say the opposite. And even less the poor goalkeeper of Real Zaragoza, Cristian Álvarez, who took a free kick from 35 meters from the Portuguese. A goal that went around the world and may have landed on Sir Alex Ferguson’s screen. It remains to be seen whether the Scot recognized his former player on the video.

By Steven Oliveira
Comments by Tiago Targino collected by SO



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