It's very easy to suggest that little sympathy should be shown to top tier footballers. For many of them, the money they earn and the lifestyle they live is way beyond what they could have expected in a non-footballing career. A rare exception though may be Bebe, not because he'd have been a millionaire away from football, but because he's so uncomfortably out of his depth at Man United and never should have been in a position to be employed by the club.
Famously, Bebe's early and teenage years were far from normal. Passed between family members and homeless shelters run by the church, football offered an escape. Allegedly, he excelled in Portugal's second division at a small, going bust club. Their financial predicament was so bad that he'd end up leaving Amadora on a free and make the step up to Primeira Liga side, Vitoria SC. He'd never make a competitive appearance with them though because United swooped to sign him that same summer, just after his 20th birthday.
The fact that over £7million had been paid for a player who was still very much off the radar in Portugal wasn't even the most shocking thing. United staff had never seen him play before - the official line was that Carlos Queiroz recommended him and suggested United make the move happen because Real Madrid, Benfica and other large clubs were interested in him despite his move to Vitoria only happening weeks earlier.
Something more sinister had possibly happened though. Third party ownership rules meant that Bebe wasn't just owned by Vitoria but 40% of him was owned by GestiFute, an agency. Given Bebe's status as a footballer, for an agency to receive £3million as part of a transfer seemed crazy. However, a quick look at who GestiFute's owner is can get many a conspiracy theory going. Jorge Mendes, United's favourite deal-broker, reportedly managed to make a hell of a lot of money of an unknown footballer. The same Jorge Mendes who'd played his part in ensuring United were able to keep Ronaldo after the 2007-08 season despite the fact he wanted to make his dream move to Real Madrid happen. Like I said, this is a good one for conspiracy theorists.
His background and potential use as nothing more than a pawn in a web of transfer dealings provides some perspective into why his current situation today is sad. His impact at United on the pitch has been minimal. His first season showed how little footballing education he'd had - the basics simply weren't there. His second season saw him unceremoniously shipped off to Besiktas on loan with an option for a permanent deal which would have seen United make more than a 50% loss on him. A bad injury and a bad attitude saw him limited to a handful of appearances and he returned to United this summer.
This summer, the keepers of the faith, and there seem to be many these days, enjoyed Bebe's cameo appearances on the summer tour of South Africa and China. Truth be told, he did well and stood out in some diabolical games but it was never going to be the start of his United career proper.
He was squeezed into United's Premier League squad but hasn't featured at all and didn't make the Champions League squad. Younger players have been favoured over him in the Capital One Cup and similarly so even at U21 level. He's not been a regular for United's second string and it's easy to see why - he captained a very youthful U21 side earlier this week and was nothing short of appalling. Bizarrely, his crossing (of YouTube fame) was the only good thing about his performance. He was regularly incapable of beating his slight-of-frame opposition winger, 17-year-old Jack Grealish; his touch was dreadful and he often played his team-mates into awkward or tight situations.
The moment that best sums up not just his U21 season so far but probably his United career happened a couple of weeks ago, away to Newcastle's U21 side. He was played through on goal completely unchallenged. Newcastle players simply stopped on the halfway line expecting an offside flag to be raise - think Barthez against West Ham - they may no effort to try to get near him. And yet, as he closed in on goal with just a keeper to beat he made the poor decision to shoot early and as the ball bobbled up perfectly to be sweetly struck he managed to miss the goal. It's hard to estimate how many metres high and wide his shot went but 10 in both directions wouldn't be unkind.
You see, there's a reason that 17 and 18 year olds are preferred to him, he's just not good enough and never will be. Bebe never should have found himself at Man United, maybe not even a Premier League team let alone one of the world's biggest and best sides. You may point out that he's now got a lifestyle that he could have only dreamt of when he was younger and that's great for him but this isn't a case of simply looking at the monetary side of things. At present, he has no career and no prospects. Apply that to a job outside of football and you wouldn't want to be doing it unless you were purely money motivated - you're rarely relied on to perform a task and younger people being promoted all around you, it's not fun and it's not his fault.
His embarrassing performances so far this season are awkward to watch. In the past I may have chosen to mock him but now it's little more than sad, like watching the runt of a litter. If Bebe truly wants to have a career as a footballer, United should allow him to leave at the earliest opportunity to whichever club is willing to give him a chance - even if that's at a much lower level. His addition to the United squad has had no positive footballing impact, and although he's developed as a player, he's way out of his depth. We'll never know truthfully why he was signed but this from rags to riches chapter in his story needs to finish for his sake.Suggest a correction