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Bebé: the ultimate ‘rags to riches’ story

 Street News Service 11 July 2019

As a child, Tiago Manuel Dias Correia was far from a star in the making. Abandoned by his parents and placed in an orphanage aged just ten, life was tough for the boy from the outskirts of Lisbon. As a form of escape, the young Tiago would spend hours on the street kicking a ball around, dreaming of one day becoming a professional footballer. Incredibly, just a few short years later and against all odds, those dreams have become a reality. (1115 Words) - By Inês Santinhos Gonçalves and Eoghan Macguire

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Manchester United's Bebe heads the ball ahead of their English League Cup soccer match against Scunthorpe United in Scunthorpe. Photo: REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

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European Street Football Festival, where Bebé participated through the CAIS Association. Associação CAIS

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European Street Football Festival, where Bebé participated through the CAIS Association.Associação CAIS


More commonly known in the football world as Bebé - a nickname gleaned from his elder brother which means 'baby' in Portuguese - Tiago Correia now finds himself contracted to Manchester United and a regular in the Portuguese under 21 national squad. With all the glitz and glamour this professional life entails, it is safe to assume the challenging circumstances of his formative years must seem far in the past.

He was born in the outskirts of Lisbon, Portugal, but his parents were immigrants from Cape Verde. The family led a rough life and after moving in with his grandmother for a while, Bebé was taken, at the age of 10, to a respected catholic orphanage called Casa do Gaiato.

To those he touched on his journey - including the Portuguese street paper Cais and the Portuguese European Street Football team, for whom he played in 2009 - Bebé will always be fondly remembered for where he came from and what he has since achieved.

"We all thought he was going somewhere"

A former coach, Gonçalo Sequeira dos Santos, who worked with Bebé when he was 18, says he always knew Tiago had potential: "We all thought he was going somewhere". He didn't know, however, if the winds would blow his way. "Sometimes you can be very, very good but the doors don't open for you. I always thought he would make it as a footballer, but I never imagined he would get to Manchester United."

Sequeira dos Santos remembers an outgoing kid, but also a hard working player: "He was very outgoing, lots of fun but also very responsible and respectful of the rules. He was very disciplined, which was a consequence of the great education he got in Casa do Gaiato."

For the coach it was "clear from the beginning" that Bebé was a player with star qualities. "He was very, very fast. Had great physical resistance and was very loose, he didn't need any help, he would alone figure out the move he had to make. It was a player that could win a game."

Sequeira dos Santos, who continues to coach the street football team, says that Bebé is "undoubtedly an inspiration" for younger kids: "Everyone dreams about what happened to him happening to them", he admits. But the coach stresses the importance of making young players understand that "before Tiago got to Manchester he passed by [Vitória de] Guimarães, and before that by Estrela [da Amadora]. He worked really, really hard". Most of his players, the coach explains, would be "extremely happy" with an opportunity in any professional club, let along one as big as Manchester United. So Bebé's story is, for them, an example to follow.

Regardless of Bebé's success, Sequeira dos Santos has a word of advice for any budding starlets bidding to follow in his now considerable footsteps: "It's very important the younger players understand that yes, football is important and they should follow their dream but they need to have a Plan B, and that plan B needs to be related with their education so that they will have the social and professional knowledge and ability to succeed in the work market."

A fairytale
Bebé's rapid rise into the football stratosphere began in the summer of 2009 when he signed for the then third division side Estrela da Amadora. A series of strong performances soon earned him a transfer to Vitória de Guimarães - a club in the Portuguese Super Liga - the following summer.

A sparkling start to his time at Guimarães saw him score five goals in six pre-season matches, ensuring scouts from around Europe began to take notice. None were more curious than Manchester United who were soon keen to meet the €9 million release clause in his contract. Incredibly, a mere seven weeks after signing a three year contract at Guimarães, Bebé was on his way to the world famous English club.

Speaking of the highly unconventional nature of the transfer at the time, Manchester United Manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, said: "When we identify someone with potential, we normally assess that over a period of time. But we have a good scout in Portugal, and he's very bright. He's got a tremendous instinct about the boy and other clubs were starting to hover on the boy, so we made a quick decision."

"He's raw material, but we can work with that. It's a fairy tale when you read about his background" said the Manchester United manager.

Bebé was 20 when he signed with the British club. "I wasn't expecting this at all. I would imagine that I might go to a bigger club but my plans were to have one or two good seasons in Guimarães and then I'd see what would happen. I wasn't expecting this to be so quick. I was in shock", said Bebé in an interview to the Portuguese press at the time of his transfer.

With very little formal football coaching behind and no knowledge of English, Bebé moved to the United Kingdom by himself. But he promised to find room for company: "When everything is taken care of and I'm settled, I'll bring my grandmothers and my girlfriend to live with me".

Still, these were big changes for a young man who was living in the youngster's shelter until he moved to England. Casa do Gaiato is still the place Bebé considers home, and he intends to return for a visit whenever he goes to Portugal: "They helped me a lot and will always be my friends. Whenever I go back to Portugal, on my days off, I will go meet them right away, I'll spend the night there".

What Bebé didn't know is that he would soon leave the UK and start a new adventure. Currently on loan from Manchester, the Portuguese footballer is now playing for the Turkish club Beşiktaş, but should be back to Old Trafford in a year time.

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