To reach the final match at EURO, members of a team need to have a closer relationship than simple team spirit. For Portugal, they are lucky to have the beautiful friendship between Ronaldo and Pepe.
Since the first time they met 19 years ago, besides hundreds of matches and dozens of titles, they have always stood side by side like a shadow to overcome their own limits.
The first time CR7 met Pepe took place in the summer of 2002. Young Ronaldo, just 18 years old and promoted to Sporting’s first team for the first time, started a conversation with a tall and strange guy who had just come to the club for a trial. That’s Pepe.
Having just left his hometown of Brazil to play football in Europe for just a year on the island of Madeira, everything was strange to Pepe when he went to the mainland to try his hand. Luckily he was able to meet Ronaldo, a genuine Madeira. “Try hard, then we will become teammates,” Ronaldo reminded Pepe.
Everything almost came true. Sporting’s board of directors was extremely impressed with the performance of Pepe, a raw gem who only played for the Maritimo reserve team last season.
A contract with Pepe was offered just waiting for the defender’s signature, but he never had the chance to sign it. Sporting did not accept the transfer fee offered by Maritimo, so Pepe returned to Madeira Island after 2 weeks of work.
“I’m sorry for not being able to play alongside you as I wanted, but I will try harder, be stronger. We will definitely be together in the future,” Pepe promised Ronaldo.
But before playing on the same team, they were opponents in the Portuguese National Championship. Ronaldo won both matches and joined MU the following summer. Pepe was temporarily left behind by his friend, but eventually reached his dream destination before CR7.
Joining Real in the summer of 2007 for a transfer fee of 30 million euros, Pepe became more and more excited with the news that the White Vultures were actively recruiting Ronaldo. But before working side by side at Real, they became comrades in the Portuguese national team.
Pepe had the opportunity to join the Brazilian national team, however, in the end he chose the place where he made his career to fight. Perhaps CR7 is also one of the reasons why Pepe bravely chose to change the colors of his shirt.
Brazilians who play for Portugal, like Pepe and before that Deco, are not always welcomed. Luis Figo once complimented his junior when he said, “Wherever you were born, you should play for the national team there.”
But Ronaldo, a person who suffered discrimination when he left Madeira to come to Lisbon to dream of becoming a football player, has never carried that prejudice in himself. He welcomes everyone, as long as they have the ability and desire. Ronaldo and Pepe’s friendship therefore becomes stronger and stronger over time.
Since Pepe officially played for Portugal until now, he and Ronaldo have played more than 300 matches together at both club and national team levels. Besides that, there were thousands of fiery collisions on the practice field.
Strong and always wanting to assert themselves as the best, both Pepe and Ronaldo do not want to be inferior to the other when they play in two opposing positions. But when it comes to official matches, both must feel lucky when they stand on the same front line.
Pepe, who has repeatedly forced Ronaldo to lie on the field in training sessions, has never stopped asserting that CR7 is the best striker the world has ever seen.
On the other hand, Ronaldo can freely dance with the ball when he knows that behind him is a solid wall named Pepe. An offensive artist, a defensive butcher, they complement each other’s weaknesses to build Real, as well as Portugal, into an invincible team.
The peak of Ronaldo and Pepe came in the summer of 2016. Having won the Champions League with Real, they joined the national team with the ambition of winning the top position.
“How can Portugal win the World Cup and EURO?”, Sir Alex once sarcastically said to Carlos Queiroz when he insisted on quitting his job as an assistant at MU to coach the Portuguese national team. Sir Alex may have been right in 2008, but Ronaldo and Pepe have proven that anything is possible.
In France 5 years ago, Ronaldo was Portugal’s most prominent star on the journey to the final. But in the final match, when CR7 was destroyed and had to leave the field early in the middle of the first half, Pepe perfectly replaced him as a leader.
He played firmly, calmly resolving all attacks from the French team to take the match into extra time, where Eder suddenly shined with a shot from outside the penalty area. The Best Player of the Final award is the clearest proof of Pepe’s influence.
Having won countless trophies together and overcome many difficult times, it is easy to understand why Ronaldo is always generous with his best friend Pepe. In 2019, CR7 ceded to Pepe an 8-hectare mansion, including a helicopter pad and a wharf for yachts to dock.
Pepe “only” had to pay 2.5 million euros for this property. A very good price because just a few years ago, Ronaldo spent 4 million euros. Ronaldo’s pet cat was also named… Pepe, a clear testament to their friendship!