football

Pepe's red card was a sign of something deeper – he needs help at Arsenal


How sad it was to see Nicolas Pepe react and get sent off for butting Ezgjan Alioski in Arsenal’s clash with Leeds on Sunday.

I did ‘Match Of Ze Day’ in Paris last week and we featured an interview with Pepe — conducted in French, of course — in which you could hear he was having a tough time of it.

By his own admission, he can hardly speak any English and, 16 months after arriving, that is still making it hard for him to settle in north London.

Add poor form into the mix and being in and out of the team, as well as carrying a £72million price-tag on his shoulders, and you can see there is a deeply unhappy guy who has probably given up to a degree already on trying to make things work with the Gunners.

I’ve been in Pepe’s shoes and I can tell you it’s tough.



Pepe was dismissed for a headbutt against Leeds United

I was only with Real Oviedo for a month so it’s not the same, but I was living somewhere that certainly wasn’t a metropolis and no one spoke English, and I didn’t pick up Spanish quickly enough, which does make it difficult to settle.

At Aston Villa, I had my problems off the pitch and my form was poor on it.

And, at Liverpool, I decided to live in Cannock, near my family and friends, when perhaps I’d have been better spending the first six months at least much closer to Anfield.

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Sometimes it’s not just about the language, sometimes it can be the culture of a club or a city just doesn’t fit with a player in the way he thought it would.

And sometimes the clubs have to help players more, because it’s easy to point the finger at individuals when things are not going the way they should.



Pepe has struggled to settle at Arsenal

When Stiliyan Petrov went to Celtic he didn’t speak a word of English, but a security guard who owned an ice cream van said, ‘Come and spend an hour with me after training every day’, and that’s how he learned and settled in to life here.

Clubs have a responsibility to help players as well, so I really feel for Pepe.

I know supporters struggle to sympathise with someone who hasn’t learned a language when he’s earning £100,000-odd a week and in an incredibly lucky position to play the game of our dreams with a lifestyle to match.

But when it all starts to unravel, football can feel like the loneliest profession on the planet and little, if anything, can be of comfort.

Adulation soon turns to mockery and laughter, and the cars and houses make you feel a fraud.

And on the pitch you feel there’s nowhere to hide.



The Ivorian deserves some sympathy

So I hope the kid finds someone at Arsenal who can help him turn things around, because there’s obviously a talent there.

But if not and his problems continue to build, then Pepe needs to be honest with himself and leave the Gunners in search of another football home.

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Football careers are short and hanging around a club that isn’t for you can have longer-term implications professionally and personally.

Sunday’s headbutt was just a symptom of something deeper and I hope for Pepe’s sake he can find what he needs to be happy soon.

Where will Arsenal finish this season? Have your say in the comments below

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