Portugal centre-back Pepe has returned to FC Porto, signing a contract until 2021 at the Estádio do Dragão. The 35-year-old won two championship titles, an Intercontinental Cup, a Portuguese Cup and two Super Cups in his first spell at the club, before moving to Real Madrid for €30 million euros.
“It’s an emotional moment,” said the Euro 2016 winner. “It’s a privilege to wear the shirt of a club that gave me everything, that launched me in the football world. I’m happy to return and will give my all like I always did for this club, which means so much to me.”
Pepe is still an automatic starter for Portugal but may not find it easy holding down a first-team place at Porto, who are currently on a record-breaking 18-match winning run and for whom centre-back duo Felipe and Militão have been outstanding.
“I’ve come here to compete,” said Pepe. “I made it clear to the president and the coach that I want to compete. I want to part of this family, part of this spectacular group, to make my contribution with hard work. What I can promise is I’ll be myself, train 100% and give my best to honour the shirt.”
President Pinto da Costa made no effort to contain his delight at the acquisition. “I’m very pleased because he’s an asset to the squad, he’s an undisputed starter for Portugal – the champions of Europe – and our coach wanted him,” said the Porto supremo.
“I was really touched by the enthusiasm he showed in coming back to FC Porto, and what he gave up to do so. Two of Europe’s biggest clubs pressured him to sign for them, where he would have earned five or six times more. Fortunately, he’s in a situation where he’s not a slave to money. You can see he’s happy and we’re happy too.”
Given the aforementioned excellent form of Militão and Felipe, there has been speculation that the former may be shifted to right-back – a position where he has played in Brazil – to accommodate Pepe. Should Militão slot in well there, it would simultaneously solve what has proven to be Porto’s weakest position this season, as the club have struggled to compensate the loss of Ricardo Pereira and Diago Dalot in the summer. Curiously, it could lead to an entirely Brazilian-born back four of Militão-Pepe-Felipe-Telles.
Whether or not Sérgio Conceição is thinking along those lines remains to be seen, starting with Saturday’s clássico against Sporting at Alvalade, which could get punters searching for betting offers for all your weekend bets. Despite the terrirfic form of the champions, Porto have not won away at Sporting in the Primeira Liga since 2008, making it a difficult match to predict.
For now, Pepe is the centre of attention. Asked about his reunion with former Real Madrid goalkeeper, Pepe related the light-hearted exchange between the two old friends upon meeting up again.
“When I arrived Casillas asked me the same thing he asked me when I arrived at Real Madrid: ‘can you speak Spanish?’ I said no, then I asked him, ‘can you speak Portuguese?’ He said he understands but he’s still a bit embarrassed to try. So we were joking around about this. It’s great meeting him again and seeing he’s in good shape and he’s happy.”
By Tom Kundert