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‘Bebeto’ – The Legacy of A Brazillian Fan Favourite

José Roberto Gama de Oliveira, affectionately known as Bebeto, was born on February 16, 1964, in Salvador, Brazil. The fifth of eight children, Bebeto was hardworking and dedicated from a young age. Growing up in Brazil; a country with a historic passion for the beautiful game.

Rising Through Brazil

Bebeto enjoyed playing and watching football, dreaming of becoming a professional. At the age of 16, Bebeto graduated high school and his dedication and dedication paid off. His chance at a career came in the form of a youth contract from Bahia, his local team. 

Unfortunately for Bahia, his career at the club was short-lived; Vitória, another Salvador-based club and Bahia’s rival had signed him away. Ruthless.

Bebeto impressed at the youth level with Vitória, within a year he earned his senior contract, and with it, his ticket to a professional career had arrived.

During his time at Flamengo, Bebeto’s incredible work ethic and dedication to the game became ever more apparent.

He wasn’t lacking in skill by any stretch, using his outstanding technical ability paired with his agility to walk around the opposition and break, but under the terrifying strike force of Zico, Tita and Nunes he became a different beast altogether.

Zico, often called the “White Pelé”, was a creative genius. 

Boasting the entire skill set of Bebeto with a thirteen-year advantage in experience, Zico had earned the nickname “White Pelé” for a reason; Pelé himself claimed that “throughout the years, the one player that came closest to me was Zico”.

It will come as no surprise then that Bebeto took this advantage with both hands, learning from Zico, drawing influence from his playing style and shaping his own.

Club Success and European Adventure

It is now 1989, and Bebeto shocks local hearts by announcing his transfer to Rio de Janeiro-based rivals Vasco da Gama. It was rapidly evident that his time at Flamengo had not gone to waste. Starring alongside him for the ‘89 season were some iconic Brazilian players of the eighties: 

Jorge Luís Andrade da Silva: Andrade, a defensive midfielder and proven asset after making a name for himself at Flamengo, transferred from Roma in the same window as Bebeto.

He had four Brasileiro Série A titles with them, and after playing with Bebeto there, the two enjoyed a high level of chemistry on the pitch.

Aguinaldo Luiz Sorato, often referred to as Sorato, had started his career with Vasco in 1988 and made an immediate impression due to his knack for finding the net; he played alongside Bebeto as striker.

For a CDM, Andrade tracked up the field frequently to create opportunities, which made this trio seriously dangerous.

Still in 1989 – his first season at the club – Bebeto employed his full arsenal of skills in conjunction with his newly established partnerships to propel Vasco to the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A title.

They were second in their group for the first stage, first for the second, and in a closely contested final with São Paulo (who were a point behind) they’d triumph them 1-0. The title was theirs.

Bebeto enjoyed continued form for the following two seasons but failed to convert said form into another title.

Seeking bigger things, the Galician sun called his name and he made his first move outside of Brazil, transferring to Deportivo de La Coruña, affectionately known as Dépor by deportivistas (the fans).

Deportivo La Coruña and “Súper Dépor”

Dépor had been promoted to the top flight the season before Bebeto’s arrival and had struggled upon their return; had they not beat Real Betis 2-1 on aggregate in the relegation playoffs, they would have been straight back down. Arsenio Iglesias, Dépor manager, saw the need for big changes.

He signed experienced players in Adolfo Aldana, Claudio Barragán, Donato, Paco Liaño, López Rekarte and José Luis Ribera, most of whom were seasoned through differing spells with Spanish giants Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid.

Impressed by some upcoming talent, Iglesias saw Dépor’s name in lights and signed local youth player Fran, Brazilian defensive midfielder Mauro Silva, and our hero, Bebeto.

Though the roots of the Súper Dépor era began before his arrival, no player embodied the idea of a new Dépor more than Bebeto.

The 1992-93 La Liga campaign was almost a polar opposite to the one preceding. The new Dépor, led by our man of the moment, finished 3rd in the league, only falling behind Real Madrid and the season champions Barcelona, by only four points no less.

The coveted Pichichi Trophy for most goals in the season went to none other than Bebeto himself, netting twenty-nine across their campaign.

This was the first time any Dépor player had won the trophy in their history, and he did it in his first season. It was their best finish in the Spanish top flight since their 1949-50 season, where they came second by only one point; over forty years.

They bowed out of the Copa del Rey with a whimper rather than a bang; they failed to defeat Segunda División (second division) outfit Mérida after two legs, the scoreline of 1-1 on aggregate lead to penalties and Dépor’s Copa chances ended shortly thereafter.

But it didn’t matter, Copa was a drop in the bucket compared to their potential for the next season.

The squad had settled, chemistry had developed, and they were arguably only getting better. Just in time, too – third secured them their first trip to Europe, and La Liga had started again.

Súper Dépor was truly in full swing, and with Bebeto at the helm, fresh off his Pichichi award, they were Barcelona’s serious rivals for the title.

After thirteen matchdays, Súper Dépor sat three points clear of Barcelona and continued this form deep into the season; this was to such an extent that after a loss to their championship rivals, they still stood ahead of them in the table.

The difference between two years prior was night and day. Dépor reached the fourth round in Europe, eventually losing to Eintracht Frankfurt – a valiant effort on their first attempt, and it meant they could now focus on the title race.

However, some things are just not meant to be, and on the final matchday of the season, Dépor faced Valencia. A run of mediocre form following their Barcelona defeat left them at risk; a win would secure them the title, anything less left them at the mercy of the Barcelona result, to be decided minutes before.

In a back-and-forth goalless game, Dépor received a golden opportunity – a penalty in the dying minutes of the game. Donato, Dépor’s usual spot kicker, had been subbed off. Bebeto was approached by Alfredo. They speak for a moment, and Alfredo grows visibly angrier, Bebeto sheepish. Miroslav Đukić provides an explanation for confused fans as he walks toward the spot – Bebeto refused to take the penalty.

In previous matches vs. Aston Villa & Oviedo, Bebeto had taken two penalties and had missed both, so perhaps the pressure got to him and he didn’t want the weight of the title on his shoulders, who can say? Either way, Đukić took the penalty in his stead, it was saved and the match bowed out at 0-0 soon after.

Barcelona on the other hand had won their game 5-2, and news had evidently reached the Estadio Municipal de Riazor. The whistle blew and the home crowd fell completely silent. Barcelona and Dépor were levels – fifty-six points each – and with the better goal difference, Barcelona were champions for the fourth year running.

The Dépor team were a mixed bag of emotions. Some anger, and shock – but mostly sadness. Đukić, distraught that his miss cost them the title, crouches down and collapses to the floor in hysterics; his team runs to console him and offer support, and Bebeto is not shown on camera again.

Bebeto spent two further seasons with the Spanish outfit but saw no success comparable to his standout season; Dépor again placed second in La Liga the following season, chasing eventual champions Real Madrid through the season to no avail. Bebeto placed fifth in the Pichichi rankings with sixteen goals.

In his last season with Dépor, Bebeto netted 25 in the league for third in the Pichichi rankings, however poor results across the season left Dépor ninth in the table at the season’s end, and Bebeto returned home, again transferring to Flamengo.

Later Career

From here, Bebeto became less serious about football and grew into a journeyman role, playing for ten clubs in the space of eight years.

His longest spell was from 1998-99 at Botafogo, playing seventeen games; his skills still apparent, he earned a selection to the Brazil World Cup squad for their 1998 title defence, which they finished as runners-up to France.

He played for five clubs following Botafogo and retired in 2002 at the age of thirty-eight. Speaking of Bebeto’s international career though…


For Brazil, Bebeto earned seventy-five caps and scored thirty-nine goals. A proven asset, he attended three consecutive world cups between 1990 and 1998; taking home the trophy in 1994.

Bebeto was one of the players of the tournament in ‘94, netting three and assisting two on their path to glory, a feat he replicated four years later in the aforementioned loss to France, consistency to a tee.

Bebeto truly made a name for himself internationally during the ‘94 USA World Cup quarter-finals. If you know Bebeto’s name, this is probably the reason. Brazil faced the Netherlands under the fervent Texan heat. Two days prior, Bebeto’s son Mattheus was born, his third child.

Bebeto catches the Dutch defence off-guard as Romario was coming back from an offside position, taps the ball around the keeper and slots the ball into the net.

He runs to the side of the pitch and rocks an imaginary baby in his arms, with Romario and Mazinho following suit. Bebeto himself explains the moment more poignantly than I ever could:

“I always had my family as the base, the foundation for everything. Mattheus was born on the seventh, the game was on the 9th of July. A game against Holland, a game so important for all of us Brazilians. I’ve scored so many important goals, which decided championships, but everybody only remembers the goal of Mattheus… I went for it with everything. I went off to celebrate and Romario and Mazinho followed soon after. I looked to one side, I looked to the other and the two were doing the same thing!… Brazilians still tell me ‘That goal marked my life – mine and all my family’s.’ When they tell you that… that’s the legacy that remains. When I talk about it I still get emotional. That’s the real legacy I left.”

And what a legacy it is Bebeto.

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