The main purpose of the Uniao Recreativa e Desportiva de Tires youth system isn’t just to bring through top footballers but to also produce good men with strong values.
Developing well-rounded individuals is central to everything this fifth tier club, based in Lisbon, stands for. In fact, it’s nearly as important as putting the ball in the back of the net.
“The football doesn’t come second but almost does comes second,” admits Uniao Tires coach Luis Lopes in an exclusive chat with SQaF Untold. “Our main concern has always been that the kids grow, become really good people and develop their life with the knowledge that if you want something, you have to work for it.”
With that in mind, it’s no surprise new Everton signing Beto told fans he would bring courage and effort to the team following his €30 million summer switch from Udinese.
After all, it was here in Tires, the small village based in Sao Domingoes de Rana in Lisbon’s coastal municipality of Cascais, that a young Norberto Bercique Gomes Bentuncal grew up and began an education beyond football.
Joining Uniao Tires in 2007 at the age of nine, Beto had three different spells with the club spanning a total of nine years, punctuated only by short stints with Benfica and Oeiras.
As a young Beto played practice matches on half of the Parque Desportivo Dr A.F. Santos Neves pitch, future Toffees manager Marco Silva was a mere seven-minute train ride away in the west of Lisbon, embarking on a Europa League adventure with coastal club Estoril while current Blues team-mate Andre Gomes was in the north east of the city, breaking in to the Benfica first-team.
The fact Beto has now followed the same path, from Portugal’s capital city to Merseyside, is testament to the work he put in with Tires. Representing his hometown team, not only did he develop football skills but he was also given a solid grounding in how to show respect, earn respect and always do the right thing.
Luis Lopes insists that while talent is important, you have to be a top person with great values to make the grade with Tires.
“If you are only a talented footballer, nobody cares. If you are a talented player and an unbelievable person too, then you have the love of everybody here.
“Something we have here is a really solid group because of our values. Guys who aren’t aligned in our values don’t stay. Everybody at Tires is the same, everybody respects each other. If you play and I’m on the bench, I’m going to support you.
“It’s our main goal, to build the man behind the player and we use football as it’s a really good tool. Sometimes I will even go to our players’ schools and check with their teachers that they are attending, behaving and not disrupting classes.”
Uniao Tires is a proud, family club built by people from the community and of the current first-team squad, five members have played for Tires since the age of four.
When you join Tires, you become one of their own and club president Fernando Lopes, who had a major influence on Beto, can still recall the moment he first met the budding striker and welcomed him to the clan.
“I remember it perfectly,” he tells SQaF Untold. “He was a tall, restless, happy boy. He was quick though a little uncoordinated and clumsy.”
Coach Luis, Fernando’s son, has a similar memory of Beto: “In his early years, he was a little bit clumsy with the ball. I remember he would go one-on-one with the goalkeeper and fall because of his stature.
“He always stood out because of his height, strength, and he was really loud; he used to speak a lot, challenging everybody.
“His main characteristic when he was really young was his speed. Sometimes people don’t realise but he has a really wide step and so he was really hard to stop.”
Despite not being the most-technically gifted, it was at the age of just 13 that the opportunity to join Benfica, one of Portugal’s ‘Big Three’, arose. Luis was never going to stand in Beto’s way.
“Go, go, go, go, go,” was his message.
“For me, he was not ready,” admits Luis. “However, the opportunity presented itself and I thought he should give it a go. I figured it would be really good for him to know what it is like to be part of such a big club and there, you’ll always learn something.”
The Tires door was left open and Beto was told: “Don’t look back but if anything goes wrong, come and see us, don’t worry.”
A year later, Benfica let him go. He returned to Tires but, despite playing at one of the most famous clubs in Europe, he was finding things tough on the field.
“The ball would bounce off his shin and team-mates would laugh: ‘Ohhh, so that’s what you were learning at Benfica?’ The kids, they don’t hold back,” says Luis, who believes Beto needed time to adjust after his big dream had suffered a setback. “They joked with him but he was a little bit fragile. It was a tough moment for him. I don’t think he could handle it very well back then. He was only 14, so you can imagine…”
Luis believes Beto’s confidence had taken a hit after he was knocked off course in his pursuit of playing professionally.
“At that age, you go to Benfica and start to think ‘I’m up there’. However, when you have to come back down, maybe you start to think you were wrong.”
Finding it difficult to find form back with Tires, Beto joined Oeiras, another Lisbon club, a year later but his struggles persisted.
“It didn’t make sense for him,” says Luis, “What had happened on the training field in Tires was happening on the training field in Oeiras but with the major difference that his family were not with him, his mates were not with him, everybody.
“I think that was critical. The friends, the environment of the club, it was light, the pressure is only to learn, to play and evolve.”
Luis reveals the Tires president was also a very important figure for him as a young player. Fernando Lopes knew how badly Beto wanted to succeed and understood the need for him to feel comfortable in his surroundings in order to enjoy his football.
“He went to Benfica and was also registered with Oeiras but Tires has always been his second home,” says Lopes. “Please remember that, here, he was very loved and treated like family. He’s a very recognised guy (at Tires).”
With things not working out at Oeiras, Beto returned to Tires for his third spell in 2014 at the age of 16. Fernando welcomed him back with open arms but insisted he must clarify his position with the coaches. Having flown the nest, Beto had to prove himself again. Not in front of goal, but in how he carried himself.
Luis Lopes, now a coach with the Under 16s, was immediately in Beto’s ear.
“I gave him a talking to for an hour and a half,” Luis reveals. “I told him, football is a really small world. You have one face and you have one name. Anytime someone mentions your name, it has to be associated with the right values. When anybody looks at you, they have to think ‘this is a good guy’.
“It was one of those talks, where to help him understand, I told him, ‘If you want to be a professional, you don’t have to run fast and play hard, you have to change up here’,” says Luis, pointing to his head.
“If you want it, you have to pursue it. Nobody is going to give it to you. Nobody can assure you it’s going to work out and so it’s like a bet. You either believe it, or you don’t.
“I told him I didn’t want him to be an old man thinking back with regrets.
“After that I think things changed,” says Luis. It was at this moment that something clicked, he believes, and Beto’s drive to become a professional footballer went up a gear.
Luis’ strong words helped Beto refocus and use his Benfica disappointment as a tool to spur him on.
“I saw a different guy with all the same characteristics. He was really tough because he was a champion; he wanted to win it all in training and he’d be upset if he was losing. He was a real competitor.”
Luis was keen to help Beto further by instilling some discipline and used his comeback as a chance to boost his desire to make it.
“In order to prove his value, we sent him to the Under 15s,” he says. “I told him, ‘you have to be humble and only when the coach tells me that you’re helping the team, and doing everything he wants you to do, will I look at bringing you back up to play in your age group.”
Beto had essentially been demoted but took everything on board and excelled. Luis’ lecture had given him purpose and the striker’s focus was now laser-like.
“I think after his experience with Benfica he was never going to back down anymore.
“Leaving there became a really important moment for him, because of that stubbornness he has, from there he really applied himself and just flew.
“He put the work in and nobody could point anything bad at him. He was now going to be a professional, you could see it in his eyes,” insists Luis. “He knew, he knew, he knew.”
Having shown a real maturity and desire to prove his worth, there is one anecdote from this time that truly sums up Beto’s character.
“I had talked with Marcelo, the Under 15s coach about how we would manage Beto’s situation. Beto had to work and be humble.
“All of the Tires coaches work closely together but Marcelo had all the responsibility in this situation.
“Nobody wants to keep the players from themselves and we want them to reach the highest level possible so, when the time came, Marcelo talked to me and told me he thought Beto was ready to make the step back up. Let’s go, let’s do it.”
Beto was told the good news and was then given one final instruction by Marcelo at the end of his final training session before his promotion.
“The coach asked him, ‘Oh Beto, please go and collect the training cones,’ but Beto acted like he hadn’t heard him and carried on walking off.”
“It was a problem,” Luis recalls. “Marcelo came to me and told me ‘Oh Beto has done this’ and explained the situation.
“I had to come up with a solution that would appease the coach because he was right to be mad but we had already told Beto he was moving up and didn’t want to mess up the opportunity.”
Luis had a plan.
“We told Beto he would be the waterboy for the team. Can you imagine?” he smiles. “He came to my room and I spoke to him. I said ‘Now, if you want to play, whenever we are missing water at the training ground, you have to go and fill the bottles. When you have filled them, you can then come up and continue to train’.
Luis was using Beto’s second comeback to present him with another learning opportunity, not just for football, but life in general.
“If we have a match,” Luis continued, “and there’s no water, you’ll have to stop playing the match, fill up the water and then come back to play.”
Beto had no qualms and didn’t dispute Luis’ demand. His reply was simple.
“Ok. Listen, don’t worry. I’m going to do that.”
The Tires team was never short of water again.
“Never,” says Luis. “He did the job perfectly.”
A while later, Tires, who were second in the table, faced Belenenses who were top and they had to win to keep their title hopes alive.
“We come to the warm-up and we’re missing a player,” recalls Luis. “We do a headcount, 1, 2, 3, 4… 10. Who is missing? Oh, it’s Beto!”
The gangly striker then appeared and nonchalantly walked back onto the field of play as the team and coaches stood bemused.
“Beto! Where have you been?!” they asked. “Where were you?!”
“I was filling up the bottles,” replied Beto, matter of fact.
Luis was astounded.
“My focus was on the game and I’d forgotten all about giving him that instruction!” he laughs. “Three months had passed and he had still disappeared to go and fill up the bottles.
“For me, that’s a mindset and showed his mentality. ‘What is the job? I’m going to do it and I’m going to do it better than everybody else’.
“You must also remember, he was only 16. At that age, there are a lot of players who won’t fill up anybody’s water bottle. This proved his character because we weren’t missing water anymore.”
As Beto got older, he continued to show a really strong work ethic.
“He neglected his studies a little and so, when he reached adulthood, he had to go to work,” reveals Tires president Fernando Lopes. “It didn’t hurt him at all though and in fact, it helped him focus more on his future.”
Beto got himself a job at KFC and juggled the job with his football commitments. While some players would enjoy down time away from the pitch, the striker took a gap in the football calendar as an opportunity.
“I think he was working extra shifts when there was no training,” Luis recalls. “We used to train at night and he worked lunch and evening but if there was no training he would work into the night. He was working really hard on the field and off the field.
“I think his main goal was to always help his family at home. I think in his mind, his goal to be a football professional was not for him (to say how great he was) but to support and give everything he could to his family. I’m really proud of that.”
While Beto lived only 1.5kilometres from the Uniao Tires pitches and so didn’t have to travel hours to training, Luis believes he still had to forgo plenty of time and many desirables to achieve his dream.
“Only he can say exactly but I think the choices he made at a young age were a great sacrifice. The number one thing that helped him was himself.
“When you are 16, there are a lot of distractions; the young ladies, the nights out. He sacrificed going to the places that can ruin the body or lead to bad habits.
“It’s a choice. Many players have said ‘I want to be a professional’ but then say ‘not tonight though because I have to go to the pub. They’ll say ‘Tomorrow I want to be a professional but today my girlfriend is having a party and I cannot miss it.
“For Beto to remain so focused, working to develop as a player while helping at home, showed that nobody could turn him away from his dream.”
“He is a great example to our young kids here at Tires. I say to the players all the time, ‘You know Beto’s secret? He believes and he does it.’ He never said he wanted to be a professional but not yet because it would mess with his day. Beto showed that if you believe in yourself and are willing to do the right things, you can make it.”
President Fernando Lopes, meanwhile, believes the major sacrifice Beto made was sticking with the guidance he received at Tires and dismissing the word of anyone else.
“For Beto, football was never synonymous with sacrifice (he just enjoyed playing).
“However, perhaps the biggest sacrifice he made at this level was having to listen to me and follow my advice at a time when many others were promising him great opportunities, though without any guarantee.
“I felt a huge relief (when Beto turned professional). It’s a slightly selfish feeling because if Beto hadn’t made it in professional football, I’d feel I owed him. Because every time I gave him advice, he went home and couldn’t sleep, thinking he might not be choosing the right path. That’s why it’s a relief to see him arrive in English football and even more so to see him happy and successful.”
Beto was right to listen to Fernando, the man who guided him throughout his development into adulthood. Of course, taking the Tires path has led him to the Premier League, a division he always admired as he watched his idol Samuel Eto’o turn out for Everton, but it also meant he was shooting up the ranks, at a club where everybody had his back and believed in him.
Still only 16, he bypassed the age level above and went directly into the first-team.
“It was important for him because our coach back then really believed in him and it was a perfect marriage.
“Beto was really powerful, really fast and had a great nous for knowing where the space was. He would always help with defending too, always.
“When the manager bet on him to make the step up he was still at a young age. So then, by the time most players go into the first-team, Beto already had two years of experience.”
Beto always possessed pace and soon learned how to utilise his speed to gain an advantage.
“Sometimes, when he was 14, he wouldn’t make runs and wanted into feet instead so he could try the thing he saw on YouTube,” Luis recalls. “But I used to tell him, ‘Beto you are fast here and you are fast in the Champions League’. Some of his team-mates laughed but I really believed he was fast anywhere in the world (at any level).”
It was a common theme that the Tires youngsters would poke fun at each other but this was their way of bonding.
Such was Beto’s confidence though that one day, amid the mockery, he made a bet that he would make it as a professional footballer within five years.
“I knew he had a bet,” admits Luis. “You must realise, anything said in the dressing room, the guys will pick up on it and chop away.”
While there would be banter and putdowns in the Tires dressing room, when it came down to it, the backing Beto had from his team-mates was unwavering, insists Luis.
“They would play with him but he had great support in the team and the guys were really close to him.
“Beto’s friends in the team Nino, Basilo and Nildo would always tell him, ‘Go for it! If you believe it, go for it. You can do it”’
Beto did as they said and achieved his aim in just four years, moving to Olimpico Montinjo before playing in the Primeria Liga with Portimonense, Serie A with Udinese and now the Premier League with Everton.
“Beto believed in himself and now everyone is really, really proud. Some of the guys say Beto is not only living his dream but our dream too.”
President Fernando Lopes claims Beto was his own driving force in making it as a professional and insists it was his strong belief that turned his football dream into a reality.
“In football he always worked hard and with great humility,” recalls Fernando. “He always believed that with work he could be successful.
“Beto is a focused and ambitious athlete in terms of moving towards what he wants. He is persevering. When faced with difficulties, he has the ability to try and try again until he succeeds. He’s a very hard worker who never gave up.
“He worked constantly to achieve his goals. He always had great self-esteem and believed he would succeed as a footballer. Beto always had a positive attitude and very well-defined goals in this regard.
“He has a rare trait in that he was always able to project the future. He was always very pragmatic about what he wanted in the future. It is his personality that has led him to undertake this brilliant journey.
“Beto is a true case study and a great example for all of us. He is the boy who was able to take the dream from the field of desire and transform it into reality.
“Beto is the man who demonstrates that thoughts are powerful when combined with defined and persistent purposes.”
The forward was always fierce in his determination to succeed too and Luis insists he won’t be fazed by taking on the top defenders in England.
“Beto would never accept that other players were better than him. Even if the other guy was better, he didn’t care. He always tried to run faster or win the ball stronger to balance it out.
“He always thinks that he can win. That was his mindset, ‘You can be better, but I’m going to win. That’s what made the difference.”
Beto was relentless in his desire to score and help the team. No matter how many times he failed to hit the target, he would never shy away from the task at hand and continued to shoot.
“He could miss an open goal and everyone would put their head in their hands but he always went back to try again. He’d miss, try again, miss, try again.
“Beto could miss but movement was always perfect. It’s like he could smell when an opportunity was going to be presented to him.
“He would miss a lot of goals but to miss, you have to appear in the right place and he was always there.”
Now watching Beto from afar, Luis has noticed just how much his former player has improved in order to compete with the best.
“Since leaving Tires, sometimes Beto has scored goals I can’t believe because here, I have seen him dribble past the goalkeeper and miss twice in one game!” he jokes.
“He always showed up and always got his goal but he’s now scoring with a calmness. What I see now is a player that realises the moment you shoot, it’s a technical moment like a pass. We used to say don’t wreck the ball and now he is placing it at the right time.”
“When he was younger, he realised not to always play with his back to goal and would make pursue for the long ball to get in behind the defence.
“The goal he scored for Everton (against Doncaster Rovers in the League Cup when he raced onto Abdoulaye Doucoure’s pass and nicked in to poke the ball past the goalkeeper), here we say it’s a Beto goal. It’s his signature.
“Seeing Beto grow and scoring goals at the top level is really emotional because he really deserves it. He’s the nicest guy”
Beto was fearless on the field and Luis believes this stemmed from his upbringing because he was streetwise.
“Some of the kids in our community, they are from a neighbourhood that is at a lower level economically but they have a wonderful thing, they have the street,” says Luis.
“They play on the street and nobody wants to go down on the street because it will hurt and so Beto didn’t care. You could be two metres tall and he’s still going to hit you hard. He always fought and didn’t care who the opponent was. I never once saw him scared on the pitch.
“I saw him frustrated sometimes, angry lots of times, but never scared.”
Luis recalls one moment were Beto was pushed into a corner and came out swinging, victorious in the end.
“I was a real pain in the ass because I always tried to push him. One time in practice when Beto was 14, I was working with the defensive line and his team had to score.
“Things weren’t going great for the attack and I started pushing him. ‘Oh Beto, you can’t score. You could stay here an extra hour and you won’t score a goal.’
“When he finally scored his goal…” Luis lets out a roar and does an impersonation of Beto pointing in his face having proved him wrong.
“He was really competitive and so later, when he made it into the first-team, he could still be frustrated or sad but he was never scared because he saw it as a challenge and so would never back down.
“I think after his experience with Benfica he was never going to back down anymore”
“Leaving there was a really important moment for him, because of that stubborness he has, from there he really applied himself and just flew.”
While Beto played with a real frenetic hunger, he was also measured and astute when applying himself on the field.
“Beto is a really clever guy,” says Luis. “Sharp, critical.”
“If he didn’t understand why we were doing this or that, you had a problem. He had to understand so you would have to explain it to him.
“He is really smart because he tries to listen, understand and then apply what he has been told.
“Even with the video analysis, he would always try to understand. If you pointed something (negative) out, he would never show any attitude.
“As time went by, Beto developed his knowledge because he was really critical of himself and everything around him. He gained a knowledge of who he was; his strengths, his weaknesses.
“He was really clever because he focused all of his energy on those strengths in order to be really different and then worked on polishing his weaknesses.”
Whether playing in a competitive fixture or just a practice session, he had to give his all.
“Beto had made his choice to fight in every training session and always go the extra mile,” Luis reveals.
“I remember one drill, where the players had to jog slowly and then turn to run back across the pitch fast.
“Beto just went for it. Everybody was saying, ‘Okay slow down now, you’re making us look bad!’He didn’t care though, he had made his choice.
“When you are that type of player you have an energy. Beto was never pleased and never settled. He pushes everybody around him.
“In training, if his team isn’t doing well he will shout, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that’ and encourage everyone.”
A real force on the training pitch, his former team-mates tell Luis that Beto is quiet in the dressing room. He’ll sit with his music on and be super focused.
Away from football, Beto is a joker but prefers not to have an audience.
“He is always joking and talks really loud but only with his closest friends,” reveals Luis. “He’s really easy going, very playful, always laughing and a fun person to be around.”
Luis is convinced Beto will deliver for Everton and believes it could be a match made in heaven.
“Everybody here had the opinion the Premier League would suit Beto.
“It’s a good marriage because from what I know, the values you have there at Everton are similar to the values we believe in and the values Beto believes in.
“He’s going to work his arse off, you better believe it. He’s going to give it his all.
“He’ll always go the extra mile for the team and I think Everton fans will support his attempts.
“Beto is a really straight up guy who knows the value of life and the effort you need to put in. He treasures the moment he is living in football. The only thing that he wants is to do his best.
“I hope he can deliver goals for Everton and the people stay behind him and push him further because, when he’s comfortable, he’s at his best. When the people are with him he cannot fail.
“If everyone expects Beto to do something, he also believes he can do it too.”
President Fernando is also backing his protege to succeed with the Toffees and added: “Beto has all the physical and mental attributes to be an asset to Everton and the Premier League.”
When the Blues host Arsenal in the Premier League this Sunday evening and Beto lines up to make his Goodison Park debut, you can bet there will be a few eager viewers in Tires, delighting in his every move. No matter what is going on, even if Tires have a match, Luis insists there will always be a group of people at the football club gathering to watch Beto in action.
“Everytime he takes a step closer to his goal, it’s a really proud moment for all of us and we are just waiting for the next goal and the next match.”
Beto still visits the club he left for Olimpico Montijo in 2018 and with every word uttered by president Fernando and his son Luis, you can sense the immense pride they feel that their beloved Beto has achieved his dreams of becoming a professional footballer but most importantly, while doing so with ultimate humility.
“Beto is very proud of his origins and visits Tires whenever he returns to Portugal, reveals club president Fernando. “Of course I am very proud of his success. He is unique. Nobody goes from Tires to the very top. Just him.
“Of course I follow everything that concerns Beto. We exchange messages frequently and obviously I feel enormous pride in everything he achieves, in particular seeing what was destined to come true.”
Luis adds, “There is a close bond, he’s one of us. Some of our players look and think elsewhere is better but when they leave, it’s hard for them to let go.
“It’s a natural thing because they are friends and have formed a bond.”
Whenever Beto returns to Lisbon, he is welcomed back with open arms and massive smiles.
“The kids here say ‘Ah Beto!’ (as he’s now a football star) but for the guys, he’s our Beto.
“Everybody is pleased to see Beto but mainly pleased that he is accomplishing his dreams and doing good for his family.
“I look at him and think ‘Oh Beto’ because I love him so much and everybody here loves him too because nobody has a bad word to say about him.”
While everyone at Tires is bursting with pride, Beto’s next achievement could have them bawling with joy and adoration.
Having regularly scored goals for Udinese in Serie A and now playing in the Premier League, there are calls for Beto to represent the Portugal national team and Luis admits it will be an emotional moment should he see him wearing the Selecao das Quinas colours.
“That day, we will have to have plenty of tissues,” jokes Luis. “If I see him in the national team shirt I don’t think I can hold it. It’s going to be difficult to hold the tears.
“I know it’s a big, big dream for him and I really think it’s close for him now.”
No matter what Beto goes on to achieve with Everton or Portugal, in the eyes of his family at Uniao Tires, he has already achieved the main wish they had for him.
He has proved that with hard work, belief and strong values, you can live the dream.
As far as Uniao Tires are concerned, it’s mission accomplished and their bet on Beto has paid off. He’s now a top footballer and an even better person.
“Beto is pursuing this great career that he always wanted,” says Luis. “It’s our flag. It’s our pride to have been involved in his development. Beto is one of us.”