Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Bébé Enigma

The FA Cup match-up (or mismatch as originally thought) between Crawley Town and Manchester United saw a team of amateur footballers virtually unheard of travel to Old Trafford to take on what was essentially a second-string United side. Darron Gibson, Gabriel Obertan and Bébé were handed rare starts in attack, with Obertan and Bébé deployed to attack down the flanks in support of Javier Hernandez.

As the 1-0 win for United would suggest, this was a tactical decision that well-nigh backfired for the Premier League leaders.  It took a header from Wes Brown to send the unconvincing Red Devils through to the next round, which will pit them against either Leyton Orient or Arsenal.  But perhaps the most outrageous of the issues that were thrust into the spotlight following the match was the ridiculous, almost laughable performance by a player who cost United £7.4 million to bring in-  Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, better known as Bébé.

Rather than making the most of being offered a first-team berth to underline his potential, if any, Bébé decided to make a downright mess of things. His first touches of the ball were decent and passed without much incident, at one point nearly releasing Chicharito to bare down on goal if not for a tight offside call. As the minutes went by, his dribbling grew to be stiff, ungainly and aimless. His passing, in particular, was absolutely horrifying.  The 20-year-old forsook the logical option of beating his marker and finding a better angle to put crosses into the box for his teammates to attack, instead resorting to thumping wild balls which found Crawley defenders more often than they did United attackers.

When the time that Bébé made up his mind to attempt to go past the defender finally did come, he found himself surrendering possession, going out of play and putting Rafael under unnecessary pressure; quite virtually everything but dribbling past the defender.  Dean Howell had nearly virtually no issues with keeping him in check and David Hunt couldn't agree more, dispossessing Bébé with conviction on two occasions and easily getting in the way of wishful long balls from the young Portuguese. It wouldn't take Alan Hansen to tell that with such a showing,  Bébé wouldn't quite be ascending the pecking order anytime soon.

Nevertheless, there remains hope for him. He has shown glimpses of his ability, with a beauty of a volley against Wigan in a Reserves match. Against Bursapor in the Champions League, he latched onto a brilliant pass from Scholes, rode a sliding challenge and poked the ball into the net past the keeper. But if he is to stay on and make a name for himself playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, there are many aspects of his game that he needs to improve on: his passing, decision-making, dribbling, speed and acceleration. A lot of work, so little time.

Sir Alex Ferguson has infamously parted ways with even the most promising of players as soon as he could if they failed to perform. Known victims include Kleberson, Djemba-Djemba and David Bellion amongst many others. As things stand, Bébé would be accompanied out of the door by Darron Gibson, perhaps Gabriel Obertan too despite the latter having shown flashes of his immense talent.

If fortune favours Bébé, Leyton Orient may just pull off a shocker against Arsenal in the FA Cup. Whether Sir Alex would deploy him against them, however, is another matter.

He could choose to watch his brief United career crash and burn before him. Or he could adapt to the English game, up the ante and prosper as his illustrious compatriots, Real Madrid attacker Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani did. Either way, the pressure is on.  

By Josh Tong-Lok