Lille in pole position to keep Pepe amid Barcelona interest

pepeLille forward Nicolas Pepe has had a cracking start to the season – no headlines there – with five goals from his first eight appearances. Included among those goals was a hattrick in the club’s 3-2 win at Amiens in September, and as a result the 23-year-old has found himself in some demand from around Europe. Spanish giants Barcelona are one club to have been credited with an interest in him, while Premier League outfits Arsenal and Everton have also reportedly been keeping tabs on his progress. It would seem easy, then, to assume he could be bringing an end to his time in France after arriving in 2017 with a move to pastures new, but it would appear that the former Angers forward would prefer to remain with Les Dogues – for now, at least.

Pepe – who has eight caps so far for the Ivory Coast, having made his international debut while on loan at Lorient in 2016 – claims that “his mission is not yet complete” in Ligue 1, and stating that he intends to see out the season with Lille before considering moving on. This news will come as something of a body blow to the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal, who may have been wanting him to join their ranks in January. While big deals are not always best placed in the winter transfer window, often sagas can be brought to an end quite swiftly once the dealings can recommence in order to beat competition to a player’s signature. In the case of Pepe, however, it looks as though a deal could only be completed in early January to go through next summer at best.

That said, players have been known to be swayed when push comes to shove before, and if the Catalans, the Gunners or the Toffees can come in with an offer to tempt the hierarchy at Lille then perhaps Pepe could be convinced to at least see what offer is available to him. Should they be able to retain his services through to the end of the season, however, then they will have done a good job indeed. That does seem to be the direction this situation is taking of course, and if the player can maintain the strong start he has made to the season then of course it could be worth considering cashing in at the end of the campaign to maximise Lille’s profits.

He is the highest fantasy points scorer at Lille this season with 28 so far, ahead of strike partner Jonathan Bamba on 20. That tally places him at third in the entire Ligue 1 as well, just behind Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar  (31 points) and Marseille’s former Newcastle man Florian Thauvin (29).

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