After winning three Champions League titles and three La Liga titles with Real Madrid and Euro 2016 with Portugal, star defender Pepe could have been forgiven for resting on his laurels at new club Besiktas. But not a bit of it.
Since joining the Black Eagles in Istanbul from Real Madrid over the summer, Pepe, 34, has stamped his authority on the Turkish champions and emerged as their standout player.
A key showcase of his talents will come on Tuesday when Besiktas travel to Monaco to take on the Ligue 1 champions for a key clash in Champions League Group G.
A loss could see Monaco — who are a shadow of last year’s barnstorming side that got to the semi-finals of the Champions League after losing key players including Kylian Mbappe — risking elimination with just a single point so far.
A win for Besiktas however would see the Turkish side, which is sitting pretty at the top of the group after two wins, taking a giant stride towards a landmark qualification for the final stages.
Pepe said after signing with the Turkish champions on a two-year deal that he wanted to win trophies, as Besiktas emerges from the shadows of Istanbul rivals Fenerbahce and Galatasaray.
He found the right place, with the well-organised side enjoying a gleaming new stadium on the shores of the Bosphorus, winning the Super Lig two seasons in a row and setting its sights on Europe.
Few are better qualified to help Besiktas expand its European horizons than Pepe, who helped Real Madrid win the Champions League in 2014, 2016 and 2017 and La Liga in 2008, 2012, 2017.
He also helped Portugal to victory in the Euro 2016, winning the man-of-the-match award in the final against France.
“What can you say about Pepe. We know his career, success and his character,” said Besiktas’ manager, the legendary former Turkish national goalkeeper Senol Gunes.
– ‘Naturally motivated’ –
Such has been his commanding style on the pitch and off, the Turkish media has dubbed Pepe the “patron” — the boss.
At Besiktas, Pepe has been able to join forces with his Portugal teammate Ricardo Quaresma as well as fellow Portuguese speakers Adriano and Talisca of Brazil.
Pepe’s hardman style has found itself perfectly suited to the no-holds-barred world of Turkish football, which was exemplified by the five red cards handed out in the last Istanbul derby between Besiktas and Fenerbahce.
He has also become a firm favourite with the black-and-white clad Besiktas fans, a crucial factor for a foreign player in Turkey.
“At Real Madrid we used to have to motivate ourselves to play, the supporters were not as passionate as this,” Pepe said.
“Here, the public is such that you are naturally motivated to do things well,” he said.
The motivation is not just sporting — Pepe will receive a total salary of 9.5 million euros ($11.2 million), plus performance bonuses, over his two years with the team.
But for all the impressive Champions League form — which has so far seen convincing victories away to Porto and home to Leipzig — Pepe and Besiktas will have to do better to retain the domestic crown.
With eight games played, Besiktas are only in sixth place, already eight points behind perennial Istanbul rivals Galatasaray.