By 2014, Bebe could not wait to get out of Manchester United.
“Every day I called my agent to ask him to get me out. It was a bad time. When you do not play, even if you are at a great club, then you are not happy, so why continue?”
The Portuguese is an infamous figure in the recent history of the Red Devils. Plucked from the lower leagues of his homeland to sign for one of the biggest clubs in the world, his struggle to make an impact at Old Trafford would land him in notoriety and his £7.4 million signing remains one of the more curious moments of Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary reign.
By the end of his four-year stint as a United player he was just ready for it to be over.
“I remember that I was going for a United game with the youth team, and my agent called me and told me I had been sold to Benfica. It was the best moment of my life!” he tells Goal in an exclusive interview.
“I am a ‘Benfiquista’, it was a dream to play there because all my friends and my family supported Benfica. I did not sleep that day! I spent the whole day awake.”
The attacker had thought it was a joke when he heard of United’s initial interest in him in 2010, and it took a long time to convince him that he was in fact about to swap lowly Estrela de Amadora for one of the most storied football clubs on the globe, via a short stint with Vitoria Guimaraes.
“It wasn’t that [I didn’t believe in myself], I just know what life is like and I think anyone would have the same thought as me,” he explains. “If you are playing in the third or fourth division in Portugal and suddenly one of the best teams in the world calls you, I think anyone would think ‘Can this actually be true?’
“I felt that way for a week or two, thinking that they were joking with me. When I signed, I didn't go to England but instead spent four days in Portugal. And I still thought they were kidding.
“I went to Carrington, I met all the players for the first time but I still thought that it was a lie! But the moment I spoke with Ferguson, that was when I thought: ‘finally I am here’. I started believing it in my head on that day, it took a lot to believe it!”
Famously, Bebe had spent much of his upbringing in an orphanage, and he says it is a period which helped to shape him during his football career.
“It was everything. I was one person before entering the orphanage, and when leaving I was another person entirely. I owe everything to my grandmother, because she put me in there. But above all, I owe it to the people who educated me and who trusted me, who supported me in my career, and who gave me the desire and strength to keep fighting and dreaming about playing football.
“Without these people it would not be possible, because at the orphanage I learned everything. I learned to play football there, because I had not liked it very much before then. And I learned to be the person that I am today.”
That upbringing also brought about difficulties when it came to his attempts to adapt to life with United.
“I came from an orphanage, and signing for United forced me to change my routine, and leave behind my second family. There were many children, I was 19 years old and I did not want to leave them behind. I had a hard time changing my life: from not having anything to having everything. That cost me a lot, and the adaptation was very complicated for me.”
Now 28 and playing for Rayo Vallecano, who face Real Madrid on Saturday in La Liga, the nomadic front man remains thankful to Sir Alex for his leadership, as well as for renting him a house!
“He spoke very little, but when he spoke he got his point across. He was a humble person who helped the kids a lot. But when he was training he did not like jokes, he was very serious, he trained really hard. He was a person who helped me a lot too. The first year I stayed in his apartment, in a house he was renting out.
“It was a good relationship, also because the people who worked with my agent had a good relationship with the coach. I don’t know if he rented me the house to have me under a bit more control, but he would obviously know when I was at home if he had me renting his place!”
It was a transfer which was never destined to have a happy ending, and Bebe started only three games as a United player, all of which came in domestic cups. He was then regularly farmed out on loan as the club looked to find some way of gaining a return on their hefty investment.
But while he was desperate to leave by the time 2014 came around, he insists he has no regrets about any of his experience in Manchester and even believes he would be holding his own in the current United squad if he was still a part of it.
“I can’t regret something that has given me so much food, that changed my life and the life of my family. United gave me everything. That’s where everything started for me.
“I could have a car, a house, I could buy things that I couldn’t have bought before. I could help my family and friends in things they couldn’t do... I do not regret anything. It was a very good decision from me and my agent.
“If I had the mentality then that I have today, I would definitely still be there. I would be in a team like that. But I had a different childhood from the others, and the attitudes and thoughts I had were different. That did not help me at all, not that I regret it. But now I would tell my younger self to train more, to be more concentrated, to be more professional.”
From the most humble of beginnings to the brightest of spotlights, it is fair to say Bebe’s career path has been atypical thus far. But when it comes to plans for his post-football life, he could not be more grounded.“I hope to have a small business, it’s something I’ve always wanted to open up. And then just be calm with my family and my son. I do not ask for more than that. Just enjoy life, without discomfort.”