Pepe says his Portugal and Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo can handle the pressure of the tax-evasion scandal clouding his club future, ahead of Wednesday’s Confederations Cup clash against hosts Russia.
Having opened their Confed Cup campaign with a 2-0 win over New Zealand, Russia face a step up against Euro 2016 winners Portugal and their troubled captain.
Spanish authorities accuse Ronaldo of evading 14.7 million euros ($16.5m) in tax and he has been summoned to appear in court next month in Madrid.
The four-time Ballon d’Or winner has protested his innocence and threatened to leave Real over the matter.
Club president Florentino Perez has said Champions League winners Real have so far received no offers for Ronaldo, the world’s highest-paid athlete according to Forbes magazine.
Despite the off-field disruption, Ronaldo picked up the man-of-the-match award in Portugal’s opening 2-2 draw with Mexico on Sunday.
The tax storm has followed him to Russia and Ronaldo’s future is the hot subject at each Portugal press conference, but Pepe says he is focused on the job.
“We’re professionals, we just think about doing our best and going as far as we can at this Confederations Cup,” said Pepe, who is out of contract at Real.
“This is the first time Portugal have been here, it’s a privilege to be here and Cristiano is just another player motivated to help Portugal as he always has done.”
Russia know one of the keys to derailing Portugal is ensuring Ronaldo has a quiet match at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium.
“The first place in group after the first game means nothing,” said Russian midfielder Alexey Miranchuk. It only matters after three games. We saw how dangerous Portuguese counter-attacks can be against Mexico. We must be ready for them.”
The hosts will have vocal home support as their captain and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is set to make his 100th international appearance.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos has said he will rotate his team during the tournament.
After Portugal’s defensive frailties were exposed against Mexico, Santos could inject some pace by starting with Gelson Martins, Nelson Semedo and Andre Silva.
Strangely, Portugal have never won in Moscow, losing all three of their previous games there, once to the former Soviet Union and twice to Russia.
Pepe says he expects a tough match, as Russia bid for a second group win to reach the semi-finals.
“The Russian team is very cohesive, they all work hard and shorten spaces, we’re preparing well and being humble,” said the 34-year-old.
“It’s going to be very difficult, but we have players who are very capable and are highly motivated.”
Provided by AFP
FOUR MORE YEARS OF FLORENTINO PEREZ?
Cue the usual parade of jokes and thinly veiled insults in the direction of the Real Madrid president, who can hardly be regarded as one of football’s most popular administrators.
Even the way in which Perez ensured his re-election – changing eligibility rules to ensure nobody else could run – speaks volumes about his thirst for power and his lack of scruples in how he attains it.
There are countless stories mocking the supposed vanity and megalomania of the multi-millionaire businessman, with perhaps the best legend being his decree that the club’s in-house TV channel is forbidden from filming him from behind – to hide his bald patch.
We can all laugh, and plenty do. But facts have a way of speaking for themselves, and the facts of Florentino Perez’s presidency, especially in recent years, are extremely impressive.
First impressions last, so it’s inevitable that Perez is still closely identified with the Galacticos policy he introduced during his first reign nearly in the early 2000s, with superstar following superstar as Perez relentlessly followed a marketing-led strategy which had more to do with global pulling power than an effective squad.
But that was a long time ago now, and Perez deserves credit for learning from his mistakes and changing his style.
Perez has become much slower (barring the occasional Gareth Bale) to meddle in playing matters, instead allowing the squad to be developed by professionals who know what they’re doing.
Look at the transfer market moves made by Madrid in recent years: Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Isco, Mateo Kovacic, James Rodriguez…they were all signed under Perez’s watch, and they have all played a big role in giving coach Zidane a phenomenal squad.
They haven’t all been star names, either. Look at Keylor Navas, an under-the-radar goalkeeper from Levante who has replaced Iker Casillas brilliantly. Marco Asensio and Raphael Varane were relatively unknown youngsters when Madrid snapped them up. Casemiro was completely left field.
So while everyone believes Florentino Perez only signs superstars and is clueless about developing a team, the way his squad secured the first league and European double for more than half a century suggests otherwise.
We can mock him as much as we want. But he’s having the last laugh.
Florentino Perez dodged the issue of Cristiano Ronaldo’s future at Real Madrid after being confirmed as the club’s president for another four years.
Long-serving Perez, who has already spent 14 years at the helm of the Bernabeu giants, was predictably re-elected to maintain his current position in the absence of any other candidates.
However, during his speech as part of a formal ceremony to usher in his latest term of office the 70 year-old did not even mention the recent rumours regarding Ronaldo, who is supposedly angling for a move away from Spain after being accused of tax evasion.
Perez, who did not take any questions from the media at the event, instead restricted himself to lauding the club’s achievements during his time in charge, but he was unlikely to get away so easily from a national radio interview scheduled for later in the night.
Meanwhile, his predecessor in the presidential hotseat, Ramon Calderon, has urged Perez to do everything within his power to keep Ronaldo, arguing it would be a “big mistake” to let the Portuguese star leave.
Calderon, who was responsible for brokering the transfer which brought bring Ronaldo to Madrid from Manchester United in 2009, believes it would be impossible to replace the man who scored 16 goals in his final 10 games of last season as Los Blancos completed a league and European double.
Some pundits have suggested that Madrid would be making a good deal if they sold a 32 year-old for a world record fee, but Calderon disagreed as he said: “I think he will stay and I hope so.
“It would be very bad business to sell him. It doesn’t matter what we can get for him. There is no replacement for him. I don’t see anybody in world football who can substitute for him.
“It would be a big mistake if Florentino Perez doesn’t try to keep him with us. It took me a long time and a big effort to sign him when Man United didn’t want to let him go. We have to keep him.”
Most observers haven’t taken Ronaldo’s threat to leave particularly seriously, concluding that he is engineering the situation to attract attention and possibly earn a pay rise from his current employers rather than being serious in his intention to leave.
Calderon, however, isn’t so sure and fears Ronaldo may have actually made an irrevocable decision to move, saying: “He is very strong-minded and when he decides something he goes through with it.”
If Ronaldo does depart, a move to Bayern Munich is off the cards after the German giants took the unusual step of publicly denying rumours linking them with a swoop for the Portuguese ace.
“We are accustomed to intensive speculation on possible arrivals and departures during the transfer period,” said Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
“In the case of Cristiano Ronaldo, we want to clarify once and for all that this rumour has no basis and must be referred to in the realm of fables.”