Where next for Pepe? The current front-runners to sign the veteran centreback
Former Porto and Real Madrid centreback Pepe is officially without a club, having rescinded his contract with Besiktas amid financial difficulties at the Turkish club.
Pepe has been in terrific form this season, remaining a key player for the Portugal national team while also starting 10 of Besiktas’ Turkish League games this campaign, only ever left out of the side due to injury.
Across all competitions - including the Europa League - Pepe has been used 17 times by the Turkish outfit, scoring an impressive 5 goals from defence in the process.
As such, it is clear that Pepe has more than enough to offer even the best of clubs in world football, still maintaining the desire and athleticism to play in the very top leagues.
But where could be the next destination for the Portugal legend? Here we analyse the teams - and nations - that are leading the way in bringing in the European champion.
One of the worst outcomes for fans of the Portugal national team would be to see Pepe leave the continent, particularly to go to a country where money speaks louder than the footballing activity on the pitch.
But it comes as no surprise that clubs from Qatar, namely Al Gharafa, are expressing an interest in the 35-year old centreback, with Pepe potentially willing to take one final substantial paycheck before his eventual, and sadly somewhat imminent, retirement arrives.
Pepe, of course, knows how valuable he is to the Portugal national team, and money is far from essential for the veteran defender; as well as cancelling his contract and therefore forfeiting his right to the rest of his astronomical wages for the next six months, Pepe was even reported to have helped cash-strapped Besiktas by paying the wages of several other members of staff at the Turkish club from his own pocket.
However, money does talk, and with the finish line of his footballing career within sight, a move to Qatar is something that could very much become a reality, even if it would be detrimental to the immediate future of the Selecao.
Another country that is enticing for its monetary benefits as opposed to its footballing pedigree, Saudi Arabian club’s are also keen on bringing in Pepe on a short-term deal.
He would follow in the path of several Portuguese-based players and staff over the last few years to make the move to the Middle East, most notably manager Jorge Jesus, who joined Al-Hilal at the start of the season from Sporting CP, and then even tried to sign Benfica star striker Jonas.
Leonardo Jardim was also very close to moving to Saudi Arabia, where he was set to manage top-flight side Al-Nassr.
There is therefore a precedent for Portuguese individuals to move to the country, and Pepe could certainly follow in their footsteps and join Al-Ittihad.
There hasn’t been any news as yet of Chinese clubs coming in for the Portuguese international, although with it less than 24 hours since Pepe officially cut ties with Besiktas, there is plenty of time for Chinese clubs to make a move.
And with all the money in the Chinese Super League at the moment, there is a real chance that Pepe could earn several million euros in the space of just 6 or so months before returning to Europe, in a similar manner to Jose Fonte, who joined Dalian Yifang last February before returning to the continent by signing for Lille this summer.
As such, a move to China has to be considered one of the more plausible options currently on the table for Pepe, even if it’s not something we, as Portugal fans, want to see.
A return to Portugal?
It seems quite apparent that Pepe would not only be open to making a return to the country he calls his own, but would actually be rather keen to do so. Having first made a name for himself while at FC Porto, the Portuguese club would surely welcome him back with open arms, even if just on a short-term deal.
There is, of course, the issue of wages. Would Pepe be willing to take a considerable pay cut just to join up with his former side? There’s little doubt that he would consider it, but just how much of a pay cut would it take? After all, Porto already have one footballing legend in their ranks in former World Cup winner Iker Casillas, and paying for both could prove a step too far.
But, if he were to come in, it would allow Porto to sell on one of their current highly-rated centrebacks, one of either Felipe or Eder Militao perhaps, allowing Porto to have no reduction in quality in their side while also allowing them to make a substantial profit in the process.
Any other side in Portugal will be a no-go area for Pepe, who wouldn’t be willing to play for either of Benfica or Sporting, and any other side in the league is too inferior for his substantial pedigree. So it’s Porto or nothing for the experienced centreback.
English Premier League
You don’t have to look too far to find fans of the English game excited at the prospect of signing the 103-time international, be it a Champions League side or a relegation candidate, which is testament to his sustained ability even at the age of 35. Fans up and down the country seem keen on the idea of bringing in the somewhat controversial defender - and it’s no real surprise.
But who are the leading candidates in England? The first and most obvious seemed to be, perhaps unsurprisingly, Manchester United. With the manager of the Red Devils being former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho up until earlier today, it was more than plausible to think that the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ would be very interested in bringing in his compatriot, having used him extensively during his time at the Spanish giants a decade ago.
Further to that, it was no secret that Mourinho was not particularly happy with the squad he had at his disposal, with centreback one position he really wanted to strengthen - and still, after his departure, needs to be. Pepe fits the bill beautifully, offering the experience and ability to match a club of the stature of Manchester United.
It would prove an excellent fit for both parties, a real win-win. Pepe would get the chance to join one of the biggest clubs in world football in terms of reputation, while Manchester United would get a world-class centreback for absolutely nothing. In truth, it seems something of a no-brainer from an external point of view, a perfect match-up that could help sort out a few of Manchester United’s problems this season.
Additionally, even now that Mourinho is gone, Manchester United have shown in the past that they are willing to sign top quality players even if they are on the wrong side of 30; Zlatan Ibrahimovic for example, at the same age as Pepe, joined Manchester United from Paris Saint Germain a couple of seasons ago, and became a regular in his first season at the club.
Pepe to Manchester United, even now Mourinho is gone? I wouldn’t bet against it.
But, United aren’t the only English club linked with a move for the Portuguese star; indeed, Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves have also been heavily linked with Pepe since he rescinded his contract with Besiktas, and it is easy to see why.
With a growing Portuguese contingent at the club, Wolves are a logical next step for the 35-year old, who has two of his international teammates in Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho already at the club.
Additionally, as a Gestifute client, there’s little doubt that there will have been conversations between Jorge Mendes and Wolves in the aftermath of his contract termination, discussing a potential move and to garner whether he is a player Nuno would like at the club.
The relationship between the Wolves ownership and superagent Jorge Mendes cannot be overstated, and could help push through what would otherwise be an unlikely transfer. It would certainly be a terrific coup for the club, bringing in a player with his reputation, experience and ability and beating off several other clubs around the world in the process.
Elsewhere in Europe?
In truth though, it’s still unclear as to where Pepe may end up and what other clubs may be interested in signing him. A return to Spain perhaps? Or a move to France? What about Juventus where he could link up with compatriot and good friend Cristiano Ronaldo? The options are endless for Pepe, and it’s sure to be an intriguing couple of weeks as Pepe’s future unfolds.