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Revealed: The incredible rise of a lost street kid who is now... Manchester United's new Bebe

02 Sep 2010 06:45:31

Revealed: The incredible rise of a lost street kid who is now... Manchester United's new Bebe

Manchester United's new £7.5million forward Bebe flew from England to Lisbon with his Old Trafford team-mate Nani on Sunday morning, following his first call-up to the Portugal Under 21 squad. Nani continued his journey north to meet up with his country's full squad near Porto. Bebe, however, took a taxi to the remote southern village of Santo Antao do Tojal and spent the night at the homeless shelter that was his home until just two months ago. Bebe, a man of 20, wanted to sleep among his friends at the Casa do Gaiato for one last time before his life changed forever. 'He came and had lunch here with me and my wife and children,' the shelter's director, Jose Joao, told Sportsmail this week. 'He shook hands with every single person here. He thanked them. 'He spent the night here and the next morning someone from the Football Federation picked him up. I think he wanted to say goodbye properly. He lived here with us for eight years. He knows that without this place he would have been just another lost kid.' New boy: Manchester United raised eyebrows by plucking Bebe from obscurity - but those who know him say Reds fans are in for a treat Owned and funded by the Catholic church for 62 years, Casa do Gaiato sits in generous, if rudimentary, grounds some 20 kilometres outside Lisbon. It is currently home to 80 young males between the ages of four and 25. It is here that Bebe learned to read and write. Here, on a dusty pitch, that he learned to play football. Others from the shelter have made good, too. 'We've had teachers, lawyers and businessmen emerge from here,' smiled Joao. 'We even had an actor. But this is the first one like Bebe.' Bebe's journey from the third division of Portuguese football to the Barclays Premier League  is one of the more remarkable sporting stories of recent years. Just as inspiring is the fact that he reached adulthood at all. Abandoned as a young child by his father Francisco and his mother Deolinda, Bebe christened Tiago Manuel Dias Correia was being raised by his grandmother in a rough Lisbon suburb when a court order delivered him into the care of the church at the age of 12. Joao explained: 'He was in danger. Kids in that area were locked into street life. Bebe was about to enter oblivion. He came here and had virtually no schooling. But we have looked after him and raised him and now football has made him a man. Father figure: After spending eight years in his care, Jose Joao feels Bebe will blossom at Manchester United 'At the end of last season when Guimaraes [of Portugal's Premier League] signed him he told me he did not want to go, to leave the shelter. 'I told him he had to go, that he had to make something of his life. Bebe cried and said: ''You are trying to get rid of me''. But I told him it was time to go, that it was time for his life to begin for real. 'Even in the summer, when he was at a pre-season training camp with Guimaraes, he would come here to sleep if he had a day off. It was 200km away but he came anyway.' Given his background and his obvious dependency on his friends and mentors at the shelter, it is tempting to wonder just how Bebe will cope in Manchester. There will be no comforting trips 'home'. His private bedroom at one end of a 15-bed dormitory was given to him a year ago as a sign of his seniority. Now, it belongs to somebody else. 'There are concerns but we feel he is going to the right club,' said Joao. 'In Manchester he will be OK. We think his grandmother may travel there to be with him. We hope so. 'We have heard about Sir Alex Ferguson. He is a leader and that is what Bebe needs. He is tall and strong now but he is just a kid. He needs to be loved.' From rags to riches: The young Bebe has grown into a role model for children Bebe's grandmother, Ilda Romana, has attempted to provide some stability over the course of his difficult young life. He has 'senhorinha' little lady tattooed on his arm. His mother lives in northern Portugal and has never been to see him play. His father has disappeared. Recommended to the amateur club Loures, local to the shelter, four years ago, Bebe played there for two years before a 16,000 euros move to Estrela da Amadora in downtown Lisbon. After two seasons in the club's junior teams, his form in Portugal's semi-professional division three last season led him to Guimaraes and then without playing a competitive game for them to United. In England on a wage of £12,000 a week life will certainly be different. Here in the hot, dusty Portuguese countryside, a daily routine of prayer, schoolwork and discipline has shaped him. He came here as an uneducated 12-year-old with poor prospects. He leaves with the chance to be the next  Manchester United superstar. Write caption here The car park of the Estadio Jose Gomes in the poor Reboleira suburb of Lisbon is littered with used condoms and drugs paraphernalia. Inside the tiny, rundown ground, weeds poke through the tarmac. This is where, just four months ago, the young forward they call Bebe played his last competitive game of football for Estrela da Amadora. He walked out five games before the end of last season because the club now about to go bankrupt could not afford to pay his 300-euro weekly wage. Jorge Paxaio was Estrela's coach last season. He learned of Bebe's transfer to England early last month when the forward sent him a 'thank you' text message. 'Manchester United are getting a truly remarkable kid,' said the likeable Paxaio, smiling as he spoke to Sportsmail. 'Remember that until he was 16 he was just playing with his friends. He has developed incredibly quickly. The first time he plays for United and I am sure he will make it there people will notice him because he is different. He has skills that not many players in that League have. 'He is also physically imposing. He will be like [Cristiano] Ronaldo in that point of view. But you will have to wait for him to be ready. I don't just mean in football terms, but mentally. 'One day he had nothing and then the next day he had everything. That will be a shock to him, even if he hasn't realised it yet. He was living in the shelter every day he was with us. He travelled in by public transport. He was like a child in that way.' Confident: Jorge Paixao believes Bebe will flourish at Old Trafford Estrela were second in their division when Bebe stopped playing there. Without their tall, muscular forward, they lost their last five games and finished 10th. For much of the season, Bebe had been the only player getting paid. Eventually his wage was stopped, too. Bebe's agent of last season, Goncalo Reis, recalled: 'His coach was always telling him that he had to do better as he was the only one that was being paid. 'At 19, that was not fair. In the dressing-room he was the only one with the new shoes and the new shirt. 'His team-mates had children and wives and weren't getting paid. It was hard for the kid but this pressure made him stronger. He coped with it. 'I think that will help him when he reaches Old Trafford. He will not be scared.' Certainly, life at Estrela was never straightforward for Bebe. United manager Ferguson suggested last week that his  new signing needs to develop physically, but there was little opportunity for that last season. Coach Paxaio, now with another Lisbon club, Mafra, revealed: 'We used to have a gym and Bebe was in there often. But then one day the players turned up and all the equipment had gone. The club had sold it to pay off debts. Pastures new: The dilapidated stadium outside Lisbon, where he played untilfour months ago, is a far cry from Old Trafford 'It will be a different world at United. I only had four staff, no dieticians or anything like that. Bebe used to eat his meals at the shelter so I couldn't control what he was eating. He got food poisoning twice. But he was our diamond, our jewel. Our problem was that we didn't have anyone else like him in the team. 'That was the way it was. I played two systems and both were used to get the best out of him.' As Bebe strides towards a new life, Estrela's would appear to be coming to an end. Their failure to pay him towards the end of last season rendered a 1.2million euro buy-out clause in his contract worthless and he went to Guimaraes for free. 'It makes me sad,' added Paxaio. 'These things can only happen in Portugal. With that money Estrela would not be bankrupt. 'A good club is about to die. It is wrong. But I am happy for Bebe, even if he can be a rebel sometimes. 'I spoke to him many times. I told him that he had every chance of rising to the top but that he also had the risk of allowing himself to be dragged down. 'He could be irresponsible and things like that, but it was just due to his background. I told him it was as easy to become a professional footballer as it was to go on the streets to steal. I told him the choice was his. He made the right choice.'  Urbane Goncalo Reis is the small-time football agent who has just seen the deal of a lifetime slip through his fingers. Sitting in the garden of the Lisbon Marriott Hotel this week, he stirred the ice in his Pepsi and lots of things went unsaid. What is known, though, is this. Until the end of Bebe's time at Estrela da Amadora earlier this year, Reis represented him. Having recognised his talent when he was a junior player, Reis used to buy Bebe his bus-passes to get him from the Casa do Gaiato shelter to training every day. Because it was a journey of two hours by bus, Reis would  sometimes take him in his car. He organised and paid for Bebe's 18th birthday party and when he was selected for a Portugal Under 20 get-together Reis bought him new boots, clothes and luggage. 'I didn't want him to look out of place and feel small,' said Reis. Now Bebe is at Manchester United under the care and guidance of Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes. Reis is no longer involved. The one that got away: Goncalo Reis is on the lookout for the new Bebe How Bebe came to change agents is not clear. Reis is vague on the matter and Mendes is not accused of breaking any rules. Reis certainly knows Bebe better than most. He has, for example, always been welcomed by staff at Casa do Gaiato. 'Thetrip to training every day was not easy,' he recalled. 'It showed hisdedication. 'After training he would go to the shelter and help withthe cleaning and things. They all pray at the end of the day. It's anobligation. 'I don't feel let down that I am not involved any more. That's life. But I used to do a lot for him. All he has, I gave him.' Reishas read reports from England that Bebe has not yet been selected forUnited's reserves. The implied criticism irritates him. 'It'scrazy that people say he is not good enough for the reserves,' he said.'I know the qualities of Bebe and one day he will jump into the firstteam. It won't be easy but he will get his space. 'Hewill not be as good as Ronaldo but will be better than Nani. Somewherein between. But he will be humble and he will learn. He will be like alittle boy with Ferguson. He will just wait for the orders. Then, oneday, he will explode on the field.' If and when Bebe does make his impact, Reis's only benefit will be an adrenaline shot to his pride. Is he angry? 'I am moving on,' he said. 'I have some new boys. Hopefully I will find another Bebe.'  Back at Casa do Gaiato, a skinny teenager kicks at the dust in his sandals and shorts. He loiters in the searing afternoon sun. His name is Adilson. Once rated as a better young football prospect than Bebe, he also joined the junior ranks of the Estrela da Amadora club in Lisbon. For Adilson, though, the dream died. He never made it because he simply stopped growing. In the shelter he is safe and he is loved. Beyond that, though, his future is uncertain.  Bebe blunder! Manchester United could have had £7.4m signing for £125kUnited new boy Bebe will be a world beater once he's fit, claims Sir AlexMan United recruit Bebe aiming to be Old Trafford hero like RonaldoMANCHESTER UNITED FC


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