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Record signing to free transfer: Why Pepe failed at Arsenal

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After completing his £72 million move to Arsenal in 2019, Nicolas Pépé reflected on how he had “struggled a lot” and a big Premier League move was his reward.

As it turned out, his struggles had only just begun. On Saturday, the 28-year-old completed a journey from club-record signing to free transfer in a four-year downward spiral that reflects badly on everyone involved.

The days of Arsenal paying players to leave the club were supposed to be over. But such was the lack of interest in a winger who has badly lost his way, the Gunners ripped up the final year of his contract and allowed him to join Trabzonspor for no fee.

Pepe is the ninth player to leave in this fashion since Mikel Arteta took over as manager in 2019, and Arsenal will hope the Ivory Coast international is the last.

It is tempting with the benefit of hindsight to suggest Pepe’s career at Arsenal was doomed from the start. The inflated fee created its own burden. There was general surprise among agents working in the market that summer that Arsenal paid as much as they did, even if Pepe registered 22 goals and 11 assists in a prolific 2018-19 campaign for Lille.

Lille owner Gerard Lopez has subsequently claimed another unnamed club offered even more money than Arsenal as a total package including wages — Napoli were serious contenders at one stage — but the final figure was greeted with widespread scepticism — that began outside the club, but later spread through the confines of the Gunners’ London Colney base.

ESPN reported in August 2020 that the deal was scrutinised internally as part of a review of the club’s decision-making processes, which led to cost-cutting measures. Although the club denied any formal investigation, head of football Raul Sanllehi left later that month with no official explanation given.

Sanllehi had been a key figure in negotiating several deals, including the pursuit of Pepe — who was not the first choice of then-manager Unai Emery — to strengthen their attacking options. Emery admitted in January 2021 that he in fact wanted to sign Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha instead. Ironically, both players are now in Turkey with Zaha joining Galatasaray earlier this summer.

Nicolas Pepe joined Arsenal in 2019 and struggled to make the impact expected of his then-record transfer fee before leaving as a free agent last month. David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
Emery stated his preference was predicated upon the idea Zaha would need less time to adapt to English football; Pepe certainly struggled in that regard, a process not helped by a change in the dugout. Arsenal sacked Emery in November 2019 and appointed Arteta a month later, triggering a radical overhaul of the playing style and the squad itself.

Even amid the transition, Pepe had his moments. There was his brilliant goal in Arsenal’s June 2020 defeat to Brighton and an assist for the winning goal in August’s FA Cup final win over Chelsea. In fact, he had a superb goal ruled out in that final by a tight VAR offside call — perhaps a sliding doors moment in a career that never quite took off.

Pepe was all about moments: a fine free kick, a smart piece of skill, a flurry of goals in the Europa League. But he lacked the consistency Arteta craved.

Some questioned his commitment, too. Sources have told ESPN that Pepe spent a lot of time with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, forming a clique that Arteta increasingly believed was stifling the squad’s progress. Aubameyang was later stripped of the captaincy after repeated bouts of ill-discipline and jettisoned to Barcelona while Lacazette faded in influence and left on a free transfer to rejoin Lyon last year.

Sources suggested Pepe gained a reputation for rarely being one of the first on the training pitch, often hanging back with Lacazette and Aubameyang as the squad made their way out from the changing room. He was also said to often neglect acknowledging staff around the training ground who weren’t closely connected to first-team operations.

By his own admission, Pepe had problems with authority growing up. On his first day at his first professional club, Angers, the manager told him to shave off his showy blond-dyed mohawk. He defied the instruction, only belatedly doing so when marginalised in preseason training. Pepe also once shouted back at his coach during an under-19s game. He was immediately substituted and forced to apologise to his teammates.

Many young players go through such learning experiences and, in his defence, there were certainly signs at Arsenal that Pepe had grown up. He was not an aggressively corrosive figure, or the “mole” Arteta sought to identify after news of a training ground bustup involving Dani Ceballos and David Luiz was leaked to the media in January 2021.

In fact, when Pepe’s partner gave birth to a baby boy in February last year — a seismic moment in anybody’s life — he told Arteta that despite missing training as a result, he still wanted to be considered for selection in their next Premier League game against Wolves because the squad was short of attacking options. Pepe came off the bench to score one and make another as Arsenal came from behind to win 2-1.

“I see a different Nico,” Arteta said after that match, referencing “his energy, his happiness, his all-round play, how he’s training” as evidence Pepe could soon turn a corner. But it proved another false dawn. Arsenal evolved under Arteta, and Pepe’s stock diminished further, the flickers of quality receding into darkness.

To his credit, Pepe agreed to take a 25% pay cut to join Nice on loan last season, ensuring the move happened rather than taking an easy option of remaining on a higher salary without any responsibility of playing. He left Arsenal for good with a record of 27 goals in 112 games, agreeing a compromise on the final year of his contract to join Trabzonspor.

Ultimately, Arsenal simply did not know what version of Pepe they would get, and Arteta is a manager who craves clarity in that regard. Defensively, Pepe did not work hard enough, but regardless it did not help his cause that at the same time, Bukayo Saka rapidly developed into one of the most consistent and dangerous right-wing players in Europe, adored by Arsenal fans.

The Gunners have since overhauled their transfer approach with significant success as the acquisitions of Martin Odegaard, Ben White and Gabriel Jesus. among others, indicate.

Meanwhile, Pepe seeks to rebuild his career in Turkey, and the struggle continues to be real.

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National Anti-Doping Bill 2024: Sports Minister applauds Tinubu’s foresightedness

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The Honourable Minister of Sports Development Senator John Owan Enoh salutes President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for placing premium on the National Anti-Doping Bill , thereby giving the Nation a reputation.

The transmission of the Anti-doping Bill 2024 to the National Assembly and the accelerated passage of same remains a landmark achievement of this administration. It is a show of the courageous and bold leadership of the president, a final and appropriate response to the perennial issues of doping that have characterized Nigeria’s relationship with the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA).

Senator John Owan Enoh the sports minister always made it clear that this administration was greeted with WADA issuing a notice to ban Nigeria from International Competitions which degenerated to the point that the agency took Nigeria to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). Amidst other non-compliant issues, the main challenge was Nigeria’s inability to domesticate the National Anti-doping Law and setting up a National Anti-Doping Organization (NADO) as part of its obligation having signed the international convention in 1999.

“ for years,the country has grappled with meeting up to the expectations of the World Anti-Doping Organization ,despite being a foundational signatory for 25 years.
Nigeria has been in the eye of the storm due to its inability to domesticate the Anti-Doping Law with the backing of parliament.
I must thank our sports loving president for his foresight immediately the issues were brought before him .His foresight and actions have put the country on the right path in sports.
I also appreciate the National Assembly for the passage of the bill ,consideration and approval of the report of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters during plenary.
The county will no longer have doubts of its participation in global sporting events, eligibility to host sports competitions amongst other perennial issues” the Sports Minister said.

This welcome development comes weeks before the country’s participation at the Paris Olympics 2024.

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Bafana Bafana Must Fall, Sports Minister Charges Super Eagles

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Minister of Sports Development, Senator John Owan Enoh, on Monday, rallied support of critical stakeholders and Nigerians for Finidi George,

With the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in full swing, the Honourable Minister of Sports Development, Senator John Owan Enoh has called on the Super Eagles to shift their focus from their recent African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and concentrate on the crucial task of securing a spot in the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

The Super Eagles are set to face Bafana Bafana of South Africa on Friday at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, and Senator Enoh stated that Nigeria must approach the tie as a make-or-break one, as victory will put the team back on track for qualification.

“The FIFA World Cup is the biggest showpiece in football,” Senator Enoh emphasized. “We cannot afford to miss out on the World Cup again. The disappointment of missing the last tournament, especially after the disappointing home match against the Black Stars, must drive us to ensure we qualify this time.”

Senator Enoh urged all stakeholders, including players, coaches, and support staff, to be fully committed to the qualification campaign. “All hands must be on deck to ensure the team qualifies for the World Cup,” he stressed. “I urge the players to get the job done in the first half of the game by scoring early goals, so they are not under pressure in the second half.”

“The upcoming match against South Africa is critical,” Senator Enoh said. “The players need to put the AFCON glory behind them and concentrate fully on this task. Early goals will be key to taking control of the game and ensuring a less pressured second half.”

Senator Enoh concluded by expressing confidence in the Super Eagles’ ability to rise to the occasion and secure a much-needed victory. “We have the talent, the passion, and the support of millions of Nigerians. Let’s channel that into a winning performance and take a significant step towards World Cup qualification.”

The match will kick off at 8 p.m. local time on Friday, June 7, at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo. Nigeria currently has two points from two games and sits third in their group of six teams.

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South Africa coach names Super Eagles winger as danger man ahead of WCQ

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South Africa coach, Hugo Broos, has named Super Eagles and Atalanta winger, Ademola Olajade Lookman as the danger man for Nigeria ahead of both teams’ clash this evening, Soccernet.ng reports.

Both sides met in the semi-final of the AFCON 2023 tournament in Ivory Coast, with the Super Eagles emerging victorious after 120 minutes of intense football. Stanley Nwabali was the hero, denying Bafana Bafana twice from twelve yards.

Lookman is a leading candidate for the CAF Player of the Year Award, after a stellar season with Atalanta, getting to the Copa Italia final, and scoring a hat-trick against Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the UEFA Europa League final.

Broos, speaking in his presser ahead of their game against Nigeria, highlighted the Atalanta man as the threat for his side but admitted their focus as a team won’t be on the former Leicester City forward.

“Obviously, the (Nigeria) danger man is Ademola Lookman, but we are not focusing on that. We are focusing on our game, we have the ability and we have proven that at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Côte d’Ivoire,” the Belgian said in quotes revealed by Score Nigeria.

Lookman is primed to step up for the Super Eagles of Nigeria against South Africa tonight, alongside Victor Boniface, after the Nigerian attackers enjoyed success with their European club sides this season.

Samuel Chukwueze is a doubt for Finidi George ahead of tonight’s game. The A.C. Milan right winger did not take part in the final training session of the Super Eagles.

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