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The rags to riches story of Man Utd's Bebe

Post categories: Football

Paul Fletcher | 19:01 UK time, Thursday, 12 August 2010

Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, better known as Bebe, was taking part in the 2009 European Street Football Festival in Bosnia when he joked with his team-mates that he would one day be greater than Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 20-year-old still has a long way to go before he achieves that ambition but his transfer from Portuguese side Vitoria de Guimaraes to Manchester United for a reported £7.4m, subject to a medical, nonetheless marks a stunning rise to prominence.

The midfielder's story has taken him from a shelter for homeless young people on the outskirts of Lisbon to one of the world's biggest football clubs in little more than a year.

It is a remarkable story.

Bebe was signed by Portuguese third division side Estrela Amadora in the summer of 2009 after previously playing for amateur side Loures. The move came months after Bebe had been one of eight residents at the Casa do Gaiato shelter invited to play for the Cais team in Bosnia.

Bebe is second from the right in the back row with the Cais team in Bosnia

Cais is an organisation in Portugal that is perhaps best known for publishing a magazine inspired by the Big Issue. But it also tries to use football to get homeless kids off the street.

It certainly succeeded with Bebe. Cais director Henrique Pinto, who travelled with the mixed squad of four men and women to the Bosnian town of Foca, remembers Bebe as a humble and kind man, who wore boots that were old and worn.

"He was a very simple sort of guy who did not have much," Pinto told me. "But he made a huge impression at the tournament. In terms of ability, he was the team. But he did not try to keep the ball. He involved the others. That is the image I have of him."

Asked about Bebe's move to Manchester, Pinto added: "I think he is supposed to travel to England on Friday but I doubt whether he has much luggage to take with him."

Bebe did not stay long at Estrela Amadora. His chance with them had come because the Lisbon club needed to regroup after suffering a severe downturn in circumstances. They had finished 11th in the Portuguese top flight in 2008-09 but were relegated to the third tier following a string of financial difficulties.

However, after one full season, Bebe was signed by Vitoria, one of Portugal's leading clubs, on 24 June, penning a five-year deal. The midfielder expressed the hope that he could break into the first team but little did he know what was about to happen.

After impressing during pre-season for Vitoria, scoring a superb solo goal in Sunday's win over Braganca, he suddenly discovered he was a wanted man, with both Manchester United and Real Madrid reportedly showing interest.

It was United who got in first, Sir Alex Ferguson acting on an apparent recommendation from former assistant Carlos Queiroz. Ferguson met Bebe for the first time on Tuesday and United made an offer that triggered a release clause in the player's contract.

"I am very happy," said Bebe, displaying a nice line in understatement. "I had the dream of playing for a major club and that dream has come true."

Standing at 6ft 3in tall, Bebe is thought to be athletic and strong in the air but, in all honesty, not that much is known about him, even in Portugal.

"I don't think Bebe believed something like this would happen to him," added Pinto. "From having virtually nothing, he has turned himself into something radically different."

Bebe has clearly come a long way from his humble beginnings. Pinto does not know why the midfielder initially entered the Casa Do Gaiato shelter but he told me that he had been there for a long time.

"The institution is based on human values - being simple and honest, of working as a team - and that is something that is passed on to people who live there," said Pinto. "In his attitude towards life and other people around him, I do not believe that Bebe will become a person like Ronaldo, who I do not like."

Nonetheless, the sensational chain of events that have taken Bebe to the Theatre of Dreams mean he will be subject to immense changes in his life. They will take him to a new country and see him subjected to an intense pressure and scrutiny that he has not previously experienced.

Pinto, an intelligent and thoughtful man who clearly cares deeply about the plight of homeless people, is delighted by Bebe's success and telephoned him on Thursday to offer his congratulations. But he does harbour concerns about the 20-year-old's new life.

"It is easy to forget where you come from and become distracted by the things that shine, only to later discover that they are not gold," said Pinto.

If Bebe is to continue his meteoric rise and become a better footballer than Ronaldo, then he would be well served to heed Pinto's words.

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