Why Real Madrid Should Not Sell Loose Cannon Pepe

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2014

VALENCIA, SPAIN - APRIL 16:  Pepe of Real Madrid CF celebrates after winning the Copa del Rey Final between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona at Estadio Mestalla on April 16, 2014 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

When Real Madrid were negotiating with Monaco for the signature of Colombian sensation James Rodriguez, the Spanish daily AS, as relayed by Inside Spanish Football, reported that the Ligue 1 club was asking for Pepe to be included as part of the deal. 

Resisting Monaco's play for the defender, Real Madrid and club president Florentino Perez produced the £63 million required to land Rodriguez, retaining the services of their 31-year-old Portuguese veteran in the the process. 

It's was undoubtedly the right move.

Despite the reckless indiscretions that continue to see him viewed as something of a loose cannon, Los Blancos are not in a position to part ways with Pepe as the 2014-15 season approaches. 

Of course, the former Porto star's less-than-flattering reputation has again come into focus over the summer, leading to questions of how tolerant Perez and Carlo Ancelotti will be with the polarising defender.

In Portugal's World Cup opener against Germany, Pepe was sent off for his headbutt on Thomas Muller, and the experienced centre-back was involved in a spat with former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita as Real Madrid prepared to take on Roma in the International Champions Cup in the United States, per the Daily Mail

Pepe, it seems, is set in his ways like no other. But in spite of that, he's still an integral component of Real Madrid's machine. 

BERKELEY, CA - JULY 26:  Mauro Icardi #9 of FC Internazionale and Pepe #3 of Real Madrid go for the ball during their match in the International Champions Cup 2014 at California Memorial Stadium on July 26, 2014 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Sh
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Were Los Blancos to sell their impulsive central defender, the obvious replacement to stand alongside Sergio Ramos would be the emerging France international, Raphael Varane. 

Recognised as perhaps the finest defensive prospect in Europe, the 21-year-old—who has shrugged aside the injury concerns that interrupted his 2013-14 campaign—is, in the eyes of some, already superior to his more experienced counterpart and deserving of a place in Ancelotti's first-choice XI for the new season.

The statistics, however, don't back that up.

Even when levelling the playing field by assessing Real Madrid's defenders on a per-90-minute basis to rule out the effect of playing time, the Portuguese's numbers are far superior to those belonging to the Frenchman. 

Defensive Statistics Per 90 Minutes in La Liga in 2013-14
Tackles Won1.131.930.66
Defensive Errors0.070.070.08
Errors Leading to Goal0.000.030.08
Squawka Defensive Score19.0414.0912.06

Varane's interrupted year, in which he was denied continuity, can certainly explain a degree of the disparity. But while he's a precocious talent, he's still a handful of years from reaching his physical peak and asserting the influence he's believed to be capable of. 

The time required for the full scope of that expected development cannot be underestimated. 

MALAGA, SPAIN - MARCH 15:  Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Real Madrid celebrates with Pepe (L) and Raphael Varane after scoring Real's opening goal during the La Liga match between Malaga and Real Madrid at La Rosaleda Stadium on March 15, 2014 in Malaga, Spain
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Of course, the opposing view is that in Pepe's absence, Varane's development would be accelerated, helping him to reach his potential more rapidly and ensuring the sought-after talent isn't lost to another club in Europe promising more first-team action. 

There is merit to such a stance. However, precautions must be taken with the emerging Frenchman.

With Real Madrid targeting six titles in 2014-15, Los Blancos are set for another taxing season. Last term alone, Carlo Ancelotti's men featured in 59 combined matches in La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. 

To illustrate the intensity of that workload for a 21-year-old, that's a greater number of matches than Varane has competed in (56) across the last two full seasons combined with the European champions. And of those 56 appearances, 11 have been as a substitute. 

Even if Varane were to surpass Pepe in the defensive pecking order at the Bernabeu, the veteran's presence will be ultimately needed for the gruelling campaign ahead. Varane, who hasn't fully matured physically and who is yet to make more than 12 La Liga starts in a single season, simply can't be solely relied upon in the week-by-week grind.

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 02: Christian Bolanos (L) of FC Copenhagen competes for the ball with Raphael Varane (R) of Real Madrid CF during the UEFA Champions League group B match between Real Madrid CF and FC Copenhagen at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Octo
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

But what about using the cash of any sale of Pepe to sign one of Real Madrid's long-term defensive targets or another elite defender?

There are two obvious issues with such a scenario. 

Firstly, after enduring the growing pains of Gareth Bale's gradual but ultimately successful transition last season, Ancelotti's team have another phase of adjustment ahead of them in trying to incorporate Rodriguez and Toni Kroos into the lineup. 

With changes in personnel and adjustments to Real's system already having to be made, a significant and concurrent reshuffle at the back can only further disrupt the balance and chemistry that developed within the squad last season. 

Los Blancos can do without such an upheaval. 

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 30:  Gareth Bale (L) of Real Madrid CF celebrates with Pepe after scoring Real's 4th goal and his hat-trick during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Real Valladolid CF at Santiago Bernabeu stadium on November 30, 2013 i
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Secondly, at 31 years of age and with a history of indiscretions, Pepe is unlikely to fetch a figure north of the £13 million he's currently valued at by Transfermarkt.  

Thus, the sale of Pepe wouldn't generate the funds necessary to cover the purchase of Inigo Martinez from Real Sociedad, a long-term target for Real Madrid owning a €30 million release clause in his contract, per Inside Spanish Football

Other emerging defenders in Spain, such as Athletic Bilbao's Aymeric Laporte (£30 million release clause, per the Mirror) or Villarreal's Mateo Musacchio (£39 million asking price, per the London Evening Standard), would also be out of reach with any sum garnered for Pepe. 

Perez's eagerness to splurge, of course, is unrivalled in world football. But having spent lavishly already this summer and amid lingering concerns reported by AS (h/t ESPN FC) from renowned Spanish economists regarding the club's financial state, remaining funds won't be limitless. 

And judging by Barcelona's purchases of 30-year-old Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia for £15.8 million, per The Independent, and 28-year-old Thomas Vermaelen from Arsenal for an almost identical figure, according to the BBC, Real Madrid won't be getting an upgrade for Pepe with any similar sum based on the current state of the market. 

Perez, Ancelotti and Real Madrid, therefore, have little to gain from selling the veteran defender. 


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