What's the Plan for that Nerd, Pepe?
Hello, dear G7I audience of and welcome to my FIRST EVER BLOG ARTICLE! I have no idea what I’m doing, so I figured I would treat this as if I were on the podcast. My blogs will focus primarily on tactics, statistical analysis, and deeper dives on players that time prohibits me from on the pod. All of this is, as always, assisted by your favorite stat hub, Wyscout. Now, what better way to begin than by talking about our favorite 3,000,000 euro flop?
We have ranted plenty about Pepe’s negatives on the podcast; therefore, this calls for a different approach. We need to take a step back and remember what it was that he offered us. Once we develop that context, then we can properly analyze what was missing in his time with us. Conversely, we can also determine whether there is any hope from his half-year loan move in Portugal. More importantly, are there any signs AT ALL that he can still do a job for Olympiacos?
What did we see in Pepe?
Let’s take a trip back in time. Covid summer is ending, the Gate 7 International Podcast is barely a month old, and one of the first deep dives done was on this seemingly random transfer out of Portugal. Greek newspapers touted Pepe as a potential successor for Mady, if he were sold, while Yann M’Villa was the Guilherme replacement. In my initial deep dive, I disagreed with the majority of Greek media on this. Despite Pepe having well above average technical ability on the ball and astute passing capability, I did not see a “visionary” of the game like Mady. Instead I saw an individual with the potential to emulate Guilherme and slot right into that exact role. Statistically, I saw a player that was just as effective closing down the ball as Guilherme when assigned the role of a 6. This same player also had a habit of quickly switching the ball once in possession to start a counter or a restart just like Guilherme. Finally, he had solid stamina and pace which afforded him the ability to get forward and assist in the attack while still covering his space on the other end. These observations were echoed by Portuguese media. The consensus was that he was a “defensive midfielder with remarkable offensive characteristics, remarkable technical efficiency that saw him able to speed up a game in an instant to create breaks for his team”. Does this quote remind you of anyone? The more I saw and the more I read, the clearer it became that Pepe was Martins’s anti-Guilherme.
What happened in Greece?
Unfortunately, the Pepe I watched in my film of his time in Portugal was not the player that arrived in Greece. A player that we thought was a bulldog, appeared afraid to mess up his precious hair. A player with a close touch who put his opponents on the back foot with remarkable speed and efficiency looked a couple steps too slow and seemed lost. I know some of you don’t subscribe to platitudes, so check the numbers from Wyscout below:
As I always remind everyone, these per 90 stat averages are aggregated to simulate a player’s production on a per-game basis. Since Pepe only featured in 2 matches where he played 90+ minutes, Wyscout pulls together all of his partial appearances. This then brings us a theoretical average of his per 90 minute production. It has a tendency to make a player look better than they actually are. Bearing the above in mind, it is beyond clear to see that Pepe was a shadow of the player we expected him to be. Now, the next thing most of you are thinking is, “Wow, Pepe sucks, why did we buy him?”. The question you should be asking is, “Why did this happen?”. Well, since his loan departure we have learned a few things. First, his first child was born when he was transferred. As a new father myself, I can tell you all that this would DEFINITELY have had an effect on me. Moving, adapting to life in a new city where you do not speak the language, and having to train rigorously, all while not sleeping because of your newborn baby, is a nightmare scenario. Secondly, Pepe was not involved at all in summer training and even sustained an injury. It is quite difficult to develop cohesion with a team when you have hardly practiced with them and are then thrust into matches where the expectations placed on you are higher than anything you have ever experienced. Finally, Pepe probably succumbed to culture shock. Part of this has to do with the previous issue. How can a player that has never had this type of pressure put on him and did not get to train with his new teammates over the summer be expected to perform at the highest level?. He can’t. Before you guys get mad at me for making excuses for him, I’m not saying this is the club’s fault. I’m merely pointing out that this simply did not improve the situation.
Is there something to salvage with Pepe?
This is the 3,000,000.00 euro question now. Is there something here or do we cut our losses on the 23-year-old Portuguese midfielder? Let’s start with some stats, shall we?
At Familicao, Pepe is playing consistently and already has played more than double the minutes he featured for Olympiacos. Even with a larger and more accurate sample size, we see improvements almost across the board in terms of volume efficiency. We see Pepe switching the ball more and with better precision to restart his offense. We also are seeing much better success and ferocity on the defensive side. This indicates that Pepe is not only getting involved more in the games, but he is also getting better results.
Don’t get excited yet. This production still is not where it was when he was at Guimaraes, but it is a step in the right direction. I am also going to reiterate a stat I brought up on the podcast a couple of weeks ago. Pepe currently leads his team in through balls on a per 90 minute basis in Portugal. This is a nice visionary metric that indicates ability to break defenses down. It was not something we saw him do in Greece nor was he touted for it in Portugal at Guimaraes.
So, now that we have the context, it’s time to answer the main question. What do we do with this nerd? For me, the answer is simple. Bring him back over the summer. Let’s see if he can assimilate into the team and the country with a full summer training under his belt. The kid is turning 24 next month and has a long career ahead of him. Besides, he can’t get much worse than Tiago Silva, can he?