A few years ago, French pundits predicted that he would be the next sensation to emerge from Africa, after the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba. Nicolas Pepe appears to have begun that journey.
The 23-year-old Ivory Coast international is the typical player almost all Europe’s top clubs wish to have in their fold. His market value keeps soaring ahead of the upcoming transfer window.
When enquirers knocked at the door of his French club Lille last June they were told he could be acquired for €15 million, but that tag has more than tripled, with the former Angers winger now going for a take-or-leave price of €80 million, one of the highest in Europe currently.
Pepe joined Lille in 2017 and has appeared 54 times for Les Dogues, scoring a total of 27 goals. His performance this term has swelled the number his admirers beyond France and reports suggest he could leave Ligue 1 anytime soon.
Premier League sides Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have all made inquiries about the Ivorian, while Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus have inspected him.
Pepe is currently the second top scorer in France with 12 goals, one behind PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, with Neymar and Edinson Cavani, one and two goals behind respectively. Pepe has also delivered five assists.
“I hope he’s going to stay this winter, we’ll do everything for him, and all the good clubs in the world have their eyes on him, and that’s normal, but the president has been clear. The idea is to continue with him,” says Luis Campos, Lille sporting director.
The French club is probably plotting a huge financial coup off their ‘jewel’, who is yet to voice his preference for a new destination, while his five-year contract signed in mid-2017 is barely spent.
Pepe’s pace, aerial abilities and eye for goal make him stand out on the back of a stunning work rate and strong stamina.
Although born in France to Ivorian parents and raised in Europe, Pépé says he considers himself as a ‘real African’, and had never dreamt of playing for Les Bleus, which prompted his decision to quickly grab the opportunity to represent Ivory Coast when he was invited to the team in 2016.
“Many people in Ivory Coast still don’t know me. I don’t know if I am the new Drogba they are waiting for. I intend to play my football. I want to do my own thing and see if I can make a name for myself in Europe and then in Africa,” he told a local tabloid in Abidjan recently.
Making a name in Africa could start at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations for which the Elephants have qualified.
Pépé, who is sure of a place in the team’s final squad for the tournament, needs to showcase his worth at the showpiece to earn a place in the hearts of many en route to becoming the next Drogba or Eto’o, probably.