Media stunned as 20-year-old midfielder completes astonishing switch...Andy Brassell
"Unexpected, quick and tremendously efficient." Portuguese sports daily O Jogo's description of the deal that takes Portuguese unknown Bebe to Manchester United sums up the feeling of most of the media. What on earth happened there?
The fact that O Jogo is the only sports newspaper to splash the story on their front page points out two things; firstly, that the move is an enormous surprise and secondly, that there is widespread confusion at how to react to the news.
The pride with which the media frames every little tidbit of Cristiano Ronaldo news shows how much the Portuguese love to celebrate their footballing success stories, particularly those on an international level, but how do you trumpet a hero that you know next to nothing about?
It was on June 24 that Vitoria Guimaraes announced the signing of Bebe on a five-year deal, with the youngster (then still a teenager) speaking modestly about his ambitions to nail a place in coach Manuel Machado's starting XI. The release clause in his contract of £7.5 million (€9m) wasn't mentioned in the low-key presentation - nobody imagined it would come into play for a long time.
Talk has largely centred on the meteoric pace of the midfielder's rise, having just completed his first season in senior football in the third tier with Estrela da Amadora, a modest club based in the suburbs of Lisbon. That Bebe got his chance was in fact only due to the club's dreadful financial problems. Estrela had finished a respectable 11th in the top flight in 2008/09 but were punished for the tangle which saw them go several months without paying their players, and relegated two divisions.
Newspapers and television have little in the way of coverage of Bebe's stellar pre-season with Vitoria to look back on either. The new no.17 impressed with five goals in as many games, playing mainly on the left side. Vitoria are a fanatically-followed club, a rare side outside the Big Three (Porto, Benfica and Sporting) that can attract 10,000 + crowds, despite the city - the first capital of Portugal - having little over 50,000 inhabitants. But their appeal is strictly local.
Bebe made the last appearance of his short spell in northern Portugal on Sunday, when he played the first half of a 4-0 friendly win over Braganca, opening the scoring with a fine individual goal. Reports had already surfaced of interest from several Spanish clubs, and last week Real Madrid were strongly linked with a deal. They were thought to be close to tying it up before United stepped in.
Vitoria's official statement underlines that the club received offers from "four big European clubs" over the last few days, with the player himself choosing a switch to England after having "total freedom to make his own choice." The announcement unsurprisingly justifies the huge fee, saying Bebe "showed in this pre-season the attributes which will make an international level star."
It is clear, anyway, that the club are as pleasantly surprised as the media. Vitoria president Emilio Macedo, with some understatement, called it "a good bit of business," as well he might - the club's previous record sale was in 2000, when they sold Fernando Meira to Benfica for the equivalent of £3.7m (€4.5m). His Estrela counterpart Antonio Oliveira has spoken about his hope that his own club "will receive a slice of the cake. It was Estrela that made Bebe known."
"Known" might be pushing it a bit. Like Pauleta before him, if Bebe is to become known as Portugal's next international star, it will be for feats accomplished outside of the country's borders.