From Lisbon To L4: Beto's Journey

In an interview that first appeared in the Official Matchday Programme, signing Beto reveals his unique journey to the top of the game, the nicknames he had as a youngster, where his love for the Blues began and why he has found “beauty and simplicity” in his new surroundings…

As far as nicknames go, the two Beto picked up as a youngster while making his way in the game are about as self-explanatory as it gets.

As well as his everyday shortened name, Beto - from Norberto Bercique Gomes Betuncal - Everton’s new number 14 had also been known as Perna Longa, which translates from Portuguese to English as Long Legs, and Gazelle, after the antelope known for its rapid speed.

But those physical attributes, while advantageous, were merely the raw materials; handy foundations for the 25-year-old’s compelling - and somewhat unconventional - journey to the top of the pyramid.

Growing up in the Mirador neighbourhood of Cascais, a traditional Portuguese fishing town located approximately 30 kilometres to the west of Lisbon, the Blues’ summer recruit counts his upbringing in the shadows of his country’s capital as crucial to building a mindset resilient enough to cope with the pitiless nature of top-level football.

“It was good for me, the best thing to happen to me was growing up in the neighbourhood because I got to know things and could be more smart about the world,” says Beto, who was born to Bissau-Guinean parents and has two elder sisters, Stenia and Soraya.

“For me it was really good. I have really good friends from where I grew up still to this day and they have had a really big influence on my life.

“It wasn’t a tough neighbourhood. There were a lot of neighbourhoods around us that were tough but ours was quite calm, quiet and we didn’t have problems with anybody.

“But, yes, I saw a lot of things and growing up there taught me a lot of things, including to not go to the streets.”

If Beto’s aggression on the pitch is one of his most immediately striking qualities, a laid-back demeanour is the equivalent in conversation.

It makes for a stark contrast and, when asked about where the competitive mode comes from, he pauses before suggesting: “Maybe from the hood, no? Because in the hood, I was never the strongest but I’ve never liked to lose.

“I’ve always had my pride.

“I don’t know why but that’s just the way I’ve always been. I’m super competitive and I hate losing… Just no… That doesn’t sit well with me, even if we play against the best team in the world, in my mind, we have to win.”

The love for football began on the streets of Cascais but gathered pace at local team, URD Tires, which was located a stone’s throw away from the junior school he attended.

After his mother declined an initial request to join the side due to financial and logistical worries, Beto finally took his place in the team at the beginning of his second year.

A moment of relief and affirmation, then, having felt he was better than some of the players already on the team when coming up against them on the schoolyard, but it was to prove far from the beginning of a linear rise up the levels.

Intriguingly, Beto, who held a physical size advantage over his peers throughout his childhood, was deployed as a winger up until the age of 18.

By his own admission, he was never a “wonderkid” and experienced doubters, but his physicality, knack of scoring goals and, above all, relentless mentality gave him a fighting chance of making it.

“There wasn’t one moment that sticks out as I grew up when I thought I could become a professional,” he reflects. “I always scored a lot of goals, I missed chances as well but my things was always scoring goals.

“As I went through my early teenage years, I said to myself, ‘No, I can be professional’… ‘Why are people telling me I can’t be professional?’… In my head, I became really convinced in my idea that I would go on to become a professional. But back then I said that mainly just because I wouldn’t accept people saying I couldn’t — I didn’t know the future.”

That resolve was tested aged 13 when boyhood club Benfica came knocking and signed Beto before releasing him 12 months later, which, would have a knock-on affect on his studies, as well as his overall happiness in the two years that followed.

He blows out his cheeks as the chat turns to being knocked back, explaining: “At Benfica, I understood why they didn’t keep me on because I was a step behind my teammates. I accept that.

“I went back to Tires, I kept going but then I had problems at school and my mother took me out of the team for the rest of the year.

“The next season, I convinced her that I will do better in school and I went to another team - Oeiras - I  changed to get away from the feeling that I felt after leaving Benfica. It was difficult. I felt like everybody looked at me differently after being let go by Benfica.

“It felt like some people were just like, ‘Ah, you’re not so good, just like we thought’, so I decided to go somewhere else to prove myself, but then the same thing happened, I did bad in school and my mother took me out again.

“After that, I was just living but it felt empty because I wasn’t playing football. I was sad all of the time. It was a difficult moment for me up until I was around 16.”

A return to familiar surroundings with URD Tires did the trick and, a transition from winger to striker upon starting his senior career with the amateur outfit had Beto wholly convinced about his future.

“I was 18 when I knew, I really knew that [becoming a professional] would happen, because I knew my body - I was tall and fast - and I scored goals,” he says. “Technically, I wasn’t there at the high level but I knew if I could get a coach who could coach me, to teach me the small things, that I can be one of the best players.

“It was a big change for me, playing as a striker but it was a good thing - battling defenders, playing with my back to goal, winning aerial duels and things like this, so I kept learning, learning, learning and I’m still learning to this day.”

Becoming a professional footballer was now a case of when rather than if in Beto’s mind but it was at this point he started a job at a KFC restaurant alongside his football pursuit in order to pay for driving lessons and help out his family. It is a move that would perhaps feel unusual for most 18-year-old footballers destined for stardom, but one he insists was “totally normal” and “made me happy”, especially since it provided an opportunity to balance football with earning money.

His job of working the tills and preparing chicken proved to be relatively short-lived, as Olímpico Montijo took him away from URD Tires in 2018 and, after just one season where he scored 21 goals for the Portuguese third division side, he stepped up to the top-flight of his nation’s domestic league ladder with Portimonense.

Forging a reputation as a powerful, hard-working forward with excellent hold-up play and a natural burst of pace, Italian side Udinese moved to secure his services on the final day of the 2021 summer transfer window.

Beto spent two full seasons with Le Zebrette and arrived at Goodison Park last month having reached double figures for goals in each of his past four campaigns.

In 2022/23, the 6ft 4in attacker averaged 0.42 goals per 90 minutes in Serie A, while his aerial duel success of 51.2 per cent put him comfortably amongst the top 20 per cent of forwards across Europe’s top five leagues.

“Everton is a historical club,” says Beto. “A big, big club in the Premier League, well-respected and they have a big history. It was easy to make this move.

“Also, when a club like this tries to buy in January and then comes again in the summer, you feel like, 'Okay, they want me for real', so that made the decision even easier for me as well.

“I feel like my style is a really good fit with Everton.

“It feels really good to be here. There have been so many big strikers who have played here and we also have important strikers in the team right now. It feels really good to be here and I want to make my mark.

“I know I can improve on a lot of things. I know I didn’t arrive at my prime yet so I hope Everton can help me to arrive there.”

It took Beto just 28 minutes to get off the mark in royal blue, notching the equaliser to help the Toffees overcome Doncaster Rovers in the second round of the Carabao Cup, a game that also saw him strike the post with a thunderous header and have a late goal disallowed for offside.

It was love at first sight for the 2,950 Evertonians at the Keepmoat Stadium, who continuously sang ‘Olé, Olé, Olé, Beto, Beto’ from the sold-out away end.

“The fans are really amazing,” he smiles. “They support us a lot, you can see that. They want to win, badly. I like this, I like this pressure that they provide because this is why we are here — to win, to do something good for Everton.

“It feels good, of course [to have love from the fans so soon], but, for me, I don’t want to be too comfortable and by that I mean I want to repay the love they are showing me with good performances, goals and assists.

“I want to improve. I want them to see that I’m fighting for Everton, this is so important for me - and I want them to celebrate my goals, lots of them. I’m a striker and I need to score.

“As for the Club itself, I’m just enjoying every day here, honestly. It’s simple for me. It’s hard for me to express but there is beauty and simplicity here for me, I don’t have any complications — it’s easy for me to adapt and play my football.”

It came as a surprise to some to learn of Beto’s long-standing affection for Everton upon his arrival on Merseyside - but it wasn’t a PR move to curry favour in his new surroundings, it stemmed from watching Romelu Lukaku and all-time hero Samuel Eto’o play for the Toffees.

Eagle-eyed Evertonians also spotted clips of Beto training in a well-worn Everton shirt in the Club’s announcement video, a clip recorded during the 2019/20 season and sent on to the Club’s content team by one of his representatives on the day he sealed his move to the Blues.

“My friends bought that shirt for me,” he reveals. “I was watching Everton games all of the time and I was always speaking to them about Lukaku, Lukaku, Lukaku!

“On my birthday, my friends put in to buy me a shirt with his name and number on the back. I was at Portimonense at the time but I wore it a lot. A lot… As you could see, some of the letters were even peeling off!

“My first memories of Everton are watching the Merseyside derbies. My all-time hero is Samuel Eto’o so I followed him at Chelsea and I loved Romelu Lukaku so that led me to Everton. I would watch the derbies and say, ‘Everton can’t lose this!’, but I watched a lot of games and still remember them now.

“The 4-0 win against Manchester City stands out and the 6-2 against Bournemouth when Lukaku scored four goals.

“For me, it is a dream to have the chance to play at Goodison.”

That dream could become a reality today.

“Words can’t express the feeling I have right now if I play in Goodison Park because it was a stadium when I was in high school,” adds Beto. “I said when I arrived that I think the fans at Everton are a bit more of a step up than the other fans - and I stand by that having played only one game and a half.

“But I have only experienced the away fans so far, so this is something new for me, something special. I’m so excited to experience Goodison for myself.”