For Real Madrid’s centre-half Pepe, the last decade has been one of non-stop success. Like so many Brazilian footballers, the defender crossed the globe in 2000 to seek fame and fortune in European football. He ended up at Madeira club Maritimo where, after a short spell in the reserves, he established himself as a top-class central defender, and set himself on the road to footballing stardom.
Whether performing at the heart of a back four, or as a holding midfielder, Pepe was a leading light for Maritimo, and his qualities quickly caught the eye of bigger clubs. However, a trial period at Sporting Lisbon did not work out for him, and he returned to Madeira to resume his career with Maritimo. After two seasons, opportunity came knocking once more, and this time he made the switch, to another of Portugal’s so-called 'Big Three'.
Pepe signed for FC Porto at the start of the 2004/05 season, and initially their new defensive acquisition struggled for form and consistency as the reigning champions of Europe had a season to forget. Then, crucially, Co Adriaanse, Porto’s Dutch coach, put in place a new three-man back-line to take advantage of Pepe’s pace and ability to bring the ball out of defence. The new tactic worked a treat, and Adriaanse’s men stormed to the domestic title the following season.
One league championship was followed by another, and the Brazilian-born defender became a talismanic figure for Porto, picking up the mantle from other world-class centre-halves to have graced the Estadio do Dragao, players of the quality of Fernando Couto, Jorge Costa and Ricardo Carvalho. Pepe’s form brought him to the attention of clubs abroad, and in summer 2007, it was Spanish giants Real Madrid who swooped to give the powerful defender a dream move to the Santiago Bernabeu. Even with a price tag of €30 million around his neck, Pepe settled into his new home without missing a beat, and quickly won over the demanding merengue supporters.
In August 2007, Pepe was finally granted Portuguese citizenship, and after gaining eligibility for the national team, it was not long before coach Luiz Felipe Scolari came calling. He included the defender in the squad for the UEFA Euro 2008 qualifier against Poland, but injury prevented him from making his international bow, so it was not until the game against Finland, later in the equipa das Quinas’ qualifying campaign, that he finally got his first taste of international football.
Pepe got his first taste of tournament football at UEFA EURO 2008, held in Austria and Switzerland, where he formed a formidable defensive partnership with another former FC Porto player, Ricardo Carvalho.
Under new national coach Carlos Queiroz, Pepe has been used more as a defensive midfielder, a role which he fulfilled throughout his adopted country’s qualifying games for South Africa 2010. His place on the plane for South Africa seemed assured, then, until injury nearly robbed him of his place in the squad. He tore ligaments in his right knee in December 2009, but after successful surgery and rehabilitation, the defender is fit again, and guaranteed to be one of Portugal’s key players this summer.