EURO 2024
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Pepe: The Oldest Player to Compete in the Euro

Synonymous with combativeness, strength, and determination, Pepe is competing in his 5th European Championship, breaking the record as the oldest player to participate in the tournament and proving that when it comes to longevity combined with high-level football, he is unique.

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From Kepler to Pepe and the Beginning in Football

Képler Laveran Lima Ferreira was born on February 26, 1983, in Maceió, the capital of Alagoas, Brazil.

His name is a tribute to the German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Due to the peculiarity of his name, he has been called Pepe by family and friends since he was a child, a name he carries to this day and is recognized worldwide.

Growing up in the outskirts of Maceió, Pepe learned early on to fight for his wants, dreams, and desires, and it was in football that he found his path.

Pepe was discovered by Alípio Neto, owner of the small team Grêmio Esportivo Napoli, who traveled around the state of Alagoas looking for young talents to play in youth championships in the state.

While watching a street game in the Benedito Bentes neighborhood, he saw a very determined and fast young boy who never stopped fighting for the ball.

Thus, at just 8 years old, Pepe became part of Grêmio Esportivo Napoli’s under-11 team, being the youngest on the team.

The boy continued to evolve, especially physically, and joined the youth academy of the traditional CRB.

He stayed there until 1999 when he was signed by Corinthians Alagoas.

Pepe made his professional debut in 1999 in a friendly match against Desportivo Pitu in Pernambuco. The determined young man came off the bench to seal the 1-0 victory with a header.

At that time, Pepe did everything to become a better player every day. Off the field, he was always a very reserved person but extremely dedicated, hardworking, and ambitious.

Eduardo Neto, his first professional coach, said in an interview with globoesporte.com:

“Everything he achieved was due to his own merit. He was always a boy who worked hard. I remember we would ask him to do ten repetitions, and he wanted to do 20. His dedication, effort, and determination were always greater than the others. That’s why he achieved much more. He did things with a lot of determination.”

Moreover, he already showed that he only entered the field to win; losing was never an option.

After excellent games with Corinthians, Pepe began to be monitored by Marítimo of Portugal.

In 2001, at just 18 years old, he transferred to the Portuguese club. Initially, he played for the B team, but he soon adapted and joined the main team.

In the 2004/2005 season, he stood out greatly, showing his vigor, precise tackles, unique jumping ability, and the will of 1000 lions.

Pepe Criança recebendo prêmio do prefeito de Maceió
Photo: Reproduction

From Porto to Portuguese Citizenship

After three excellent seasons at Marítimo, Pepe was signed by the traditional Porto at the end of 2004. With the Dragons, he gained a lot of experience, after all, he had teammates like Maniche, Vítor Baía, Costinha, and Derlei, among others.

At Porto, it took a while for him to secure a starting spot, but once he did, he never let go. Pepe showed more intensity, combativeness, and determination every day, and gradually developed his technique with the ball and passing.

In his first season as a starter, he won the Portuguese Championship.

After almost three exemplary seasons at Porto, Pepe obtained Portuguese citizenship and soon received an invitation from Luiz Felipe Scolari to play for the Portuguese National Team.

Pepe, who had no prospects of playing for the Brazilian national team and had experienced frustration from not being called up to the Brazilian U-20 team, did not hesitate to accept Scolari’s invitation.

The defender made his debut in a 0-0 draw against Finland at Estádio do Dragão, a result that secured Portugal’s place in the 2008 European Championship, where Pepe was called up and played his first game in the competition.

Photo: Luis Vieira

Real Madrid and Key Player for Portugal

The now Portuguese defender joined Real Madrid in the 2007/2008 season to compete with big names like Canavarro, Heinze, Metzelder, and Sergio Ramos.

Pepe once again stood out for his dedication, tenacity, and determination, naturally becoming a starter in the Merengue team.

His good performances at the Madrid club earned him a place in his first European Championship.

In 2008, at just 25 years old, he was a key starter and even scored a goal in his debut, helping Portugal secure a 2-0 win over Turkey.

Portugal topped their group stage but was eliminated by a strong Germany team in the quarter-finals in an exciting match that ended 3-2 for the Germans.

Despite the defeat, this was the most important competition for Pepe’s career as it secured his place as a starter for the Portuguese National Team and established his name as one of the top defenders in football at the time.

At Real Madrid, he formed a formidable defensive duo with his compatriot Ricardo Carvalho and later with Sergio Ramos, creating one of the most feared partnerships in the world.

He played in the 2010 World Cup as a key starter and also in Euro 2012.

During his 10 years with Real Madrid, Pepe collected numerous titles, being a crucial part of a star-studded team that included Sergio Ramos, Casillas, Marcelo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuaín, Diarra, and Di María, among others.

In total, he won 22 titles, including 3 Champions League trophies, 2 Club World Cups, and 3 Spanish Championships.

Besides being the team’s defensive anchor, he also scored important goals and created historic moments with his tackles, fights, aggressions, precise passes, powerful headers, and immense determination.

Photo: Denis Doyle

Portuguese National Team

As mentioned earlier, Pepe played in the 2008 and 2012 European Championships for the Portuguese National Team, as well as the 2010 World Cup.

He was also a starter in the 2014 World Cup and the famous 2016 European Championship.

Pepe, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, João Moutinho, and Rui Patrício, formed the backbone of the Portuguese National Team, being key technical highlights and voices of wisdom and experience among the players.

Pepe played a crucial role, being the leader of the Portuguese defense. His reserved and polite demeanor off the field commanded the respect of his teammates, and his defensive technique, combined with his determination, courage, and strength on the field, was the perfect mix to inspire his companions.

In Euro 2016, Portugal had a historic campaign, showing great resilience and becoming champions in an exciting final against the formidable France.

In 2018, Pepe also participated in the World Cup in Russia, as well as in Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar at the age of 39.

Today, Pepe is still playing at a high level for Porto. Once again with the Dragons, he showcases his unique style on the field, which has earned this exceptional defender a spot in yet another European Championship.

Foto: Michael Dalder Livepic

Euro 2024 and the Record as the Oldest Player to Play a Match

Currently, the Portuguese National Team has one of the best squads in its history, a perfect blend of experience and youth, with players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, Bruno Fernandes, João Cancelo, Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias, and Rafael Leão, among others.

Pepe is a key starter, and in the opening match against the Czech Republic, he formed the defensive line with Ruben Dias and Nuno Mendes.

In this game, Pepe was as reliable and determined as always, helping his team secure the victory in their opening match towards a potential second championship.

Thus, he became the oldest player to play a match in the European Championship, at 41 years old. Amidst sprints, tackles, bursts of speed, and collisions, Pepe still exudes the energy of that teenager from Maceió who did everything to achieve his dreams.

 

Written by João Felipe Miller

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