(By Paul Morrissey – Follow on Twitter here.)
The most expenisve game on Planet Earth, pig’s heads, the Ballon d’Or Gala, etcetera etcetera.Â Basta ya.Â Hombre, this game was all about one monstrous individual, name of KÃ©pler Laveran Lima Ferreira, aka Pepe.
A footballer like Pepe would never come from the MasÃaÂ Cladera (Mallorca), 24/3/11
A ball of nerves, he looks capable of just about anything. Uhinged, unpredictable, and downright nasty.
A physical beast, corporeally ripped: he is the incarnation on earth of Skelator.Â (Even the same snarling coupon as the arch nemesis of He-Man. A face only a mother could love.) A bit eccentric (he does magic tricks) and a teddy bear off the pitch (always readily available on Valdebebas “Autograph Row”), he metamorphoses into a nefarious mutant once he crosses that white line. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Mourinho and Pepe in the same place at the same time…
And yet it could have all been so different. Following his now infamous piÃ±ata attack on Getafe’s Casquero, he was sent on an Anger Management course.Â He’d contemplated quitting the game altogether. Maybe football wasn’t for him. He has, after all, got the bronca for a far more violent and death-defying sport, such as chariot racing or gladiating. Faute de mieux, he came back to the ball sport amid near indifference. How good is this chico loco anyway; do we need this potentially dangerous liability?
He quickly found favour with Pellegrini – on suspiciously good behaviour (10 games, 1 yellow card), and reinstated himself with surprising assurance; but like Alex De Large after the Ludovico Treatment, there was skepticism of the permanence of the positive effect. He then did his cruciate ligament and his subsequent return this season has seen the return of the real Pepe. Oh, he was cured alright…
Mourinho’s eked out that grinta that always set Pepe apart, tapped into it and has moulded him into a fearfully effective competitor.Â The irony is that after after three clubs at which he’s had such lavish resources and transfer clout, he’s completely chanced upon the personification of his ideology. At Chelsea, he had designs on moulding Essien into that player, but the Ghanaian’s maddening propensity to attract red cards was an impediment. At Inter he had Cambiasso, who filled the role to near perfection, but there was one key ingredient missing: polemic.
Cambiasso is too much of a benevolent and placid individual to engage in the gamesmanship which underpins Pepe’s service to the team. He had Matrix Matterazi, true, but cultural rigidity and age were obstacles to diversifying him from a pure defending role.
Pepe Bites Yer Legs, Pepe Steals Yer Sweets – he knows all the right kicks in all the right places, dabbles in whispering sweet nothings in opponents’ ears and is first on the scene at the first sniff of a ruckus (accusations of him lobbing loogies in the tunnel like a demented llama were make-believe).
In terms of “playing” on the edge, he’s seen Van Bommel and raised him to an unsurpassable limit. If MVB had taken the dark arts to a sophisticated level at the World Cup, Pepe has gone and developed it into a veritable art form. There is surprise that he hasn’t walked the plank yet at the halfway point of this Star Wars Gauntlet, but that is to do the naturlised Portuguese a disservice.
He’s not going to launch himself into violent tackles any more – he disguises his attacks as over-zealous follow-throughs. Regarded as a bit of a simpleton, he’s clearly a deceptive genius (only 8 yellow cards this season, one of which led to a sending off, 8 fouls in both Classicos for only one yellow card). Back in the street ball days, we used to call it Prison Rules. These are Pepe’s Rules.
The team with Pepe plays higher, the team with Pepe presses harder, the team with Pepe attacks better . Jose Mourinho, 1/2/11
Pepe has been the main man of this series due in primo to his repositioning in front of the defence as a “false 6,” alongside Khedira and Xabia Alonso. The mission: locate and arrest the Three tiki-taka Amigos; prevent them from submerging the midfield zone with their carrousel routine. The mutually inclusive objective was to cut the link between the trio and the false 9 Messi, who de-zones as the free electron to create give-and-goes (3 of the 5 goals in 29-N Manita originated in the centre).
His marker was laid from the 17th minute, when he imprinted his studs on The Flea’s ankle. Pleased to beat you; Thou shalt not pass.
Resultado: The famed tiki taka went MIA until a briefly sustained appearance midway through the second half when they finally began to turn the screw. Pepe’s presence higer up the pitch not only irked Xavi et al – it actually intimidated them.
Where Barca generally make it their business to give it the “Big ‘Un” in the mini-exchanges – e.g. chokeholds on Arsenal players – they resorted to pesetering the ref into booking Pepe as opposed to confronting the man himself. Never has Xavi been so anonymous, Iniesta so transparent; only Busi managed to wriggle free of his grasp and impose himself.
But Pepe didn’t content himself with occupying this space. He was clearly tactically instructed to moonlight as a madcap libero when the occassion presented itself, symbolised by his Lebron James-style dunk which crashed off the post (David Luiz’s sudden appearance and smashed volley against United sprang to mind).
Ronaldo and Ozil’s seemingly pointless time-biding was deliberate and precise, awaiting the moment when Pepe would appear in their peripheral vision to serve up a synchronised alley-oop. Time slowed, as he sprang like a gazelle into the Valencian night. I truly believe for a brief moment Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire reverberated from somewhere inside the Mestalla; He Believed He Could Fly.
In that one incredible flash we had a glimpse of what Pepe can now become for El Mou Team – an idiosyncratic cross between a liibero andÂ trequartista: a Libertista. Allow me to qualify this. He would quite clearly be hopelessly inept to carry out either of those roles as a specialist, but as he proved on Wednesday night, with his phyisque and explosive speed, he doesn’t actually need to get on the ball with his feet. He can put out fires (euphamism for squashing ankles, kicking, pinching) all night long and join in on attacks that originate from his dispossessions.
It was only one game, but what a game.
If he can add to this showing and confirm the position, we may as well go ahead and consign the “Makelele role” as an anachronism. This nascent libertista role is harder, better, faster, stronger. Confirmation may have to wait, as he may be asked to drop back for the Champions League 1st leg with Carvalho suspended.
Wherever he plays, Pepe will have a massive bearing on Part II. His methods are his methods are his methods. The Pep Team will have to man up or pay the heavist price; the referee isn’t going to protect them: these are Pepe’s Rules.