There was general astonishment on Saturday when Lille boss Christophe Galtier suggested that it might be a “good idea” for star player Nicolas Pepe (£2.24) to depart the club for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer.
While some pointed to the words as highlighting the lack of competition currently in Ligue 1 – true – there were others who suggested that the northern side might be putting their prized-asset in the shop window aware that his future value is only likely to depreciate – unproven.
The way that Pepe played as Lille dismantled an admittedly 10-man PSG 5-1 at home on Sunday, suggests that those pedaling the second theory are some way off the mark. Showing all the attributes of a top-class forward, he scored one, laid on two and had the wherewithal in the first half to draw a red card for the visitors’ Juan Bernat (£0.44) that turned the game in LOSC’s favour.
By full-time, the packed stands of Stade Pierre-Mauroy, where near 50,000 watched the home side close in on a Champions League return next season, had witnessed PSG’s most devastating loss of the QSI era and the first time they had conceded five domestically since 2000.
Lille have confirmed that he will leave, probably along with three or four other players in the summer, but the big question is to where?
On the evidence of Sunday’s performance and what has gone before it in the season, he would be a valuable addition to any side, even allowing for woeful defending of the champions elect, which led to Kylian Mbappe (£5.33) lamenting: “We played like beginners.”
Certainly, a PSG decimated by injuries were schooled by the vibrant offensive line of their hosts.
Lille’s attacking midfield trio of Jonathan Bamba (£0.77), Jonathan Ikone (£0.55) and Pepe (£2.24), which on this occasion played behind Loic Remy (£0.17) as Rafael Leao (£1.11) was suspended, has been christened ‘BIP BIP’ as a homage to the cartoon character Roadrunner and the lightning speed that all possess.
And all played a valuable role in Sunday’s victory, even if it was Pepe who was the undoubted star as he joined an elite group of just six players (Lionel Messi (£5.28), Eden Hazard (£4.96), Pablo Sarabia (£0.93), Dries Mertens (£0.50) and Jadon Sancho (£5.47)) to have hit double figures in terms of goals and assists in Europe’s big five leagues this season.
Ikone, whose devastating through pass released Pepe for what proved to be the winner, has already passed through PSG’s academy ranks along with LOSC goalkeeper Mike Maignan (£0.24), but there is a widespread believe that Pepe could be drawn to the capital.
“In terms of his quality, and to prepare for the future, to have a player with the style of Pepe, who knows Ligue 1, and who is so quick to get in behind, would be positive,” former PSG player Ali Benarbia argued to RMC.
With PSG set for a summer of transition, the signing of Pepe would be one that added up, yet shackled to some extent by Financial Fair Play legislation, he would be a lavish option for a replacement.
A fee of €80 million has been bandied around, and even if that is ambitious on Lille’s part, his extraordinary statistics and numerous suitors promise a bidding war.
Compared to Thierry Henry, Arsenal and Barcelona have both been associated with a summer move for a forward who is still most at home in the wide areas, while Bayern Munich see him as a potential replacement for Franck Ribery (£0.31) and Arjen Robben (£0.13), the latter of whom will depart in the summer.
All would have watched on intently as Pepe earned his spurs on Sunday, with his performance surely guaranteeing a move to one of Europe’s elite establishments in the coming weeks.
It may be a “good idea” for PSG to sign him, but it will be no easy task.