Nicolas Pépé, the most expensive African player in history

 Nicolas Pépé, the most expensive African player in history

Football is a massive business. Among the billions circulating each year between leagues and TV channels, sportswear manufacturers like Nike and Adidas, sports betting companies like Betway, banks and pretty much every company willing to promote its products and services to the football-loving public, there is one area where, sometimes, surprising amounts change hands in exchange for players.

The world record football transfer fee was paid two years ago by the French team Paris Saint-Germain that paid 222 million euros – ZK 3.2 billion – for the Brazilian football legend Neymar.

This year, in turn, a player of African descent has broken a world record: Nicolas Pépé has signed with English club Arsenal for 79 million euros – ZK 1.14 billion – becoming the most expensive African player in history.

Pépé – a short history

Pépé’s parents left Ivory Coast in the 1990s to escape poverty and seek a better life and future.

The little Nico was born in France, to a housekeeper mother and a prison warden father. His affinity for football showed at an early age – his goal was to become a professional footballer when he grew up.

He spent his formative years with Solitaire Paris Est, initially playing as a goalkeeper, from where he moved on to the Poitiers FC – now Stade Poitevin FC – youth academy, this time as an outfield player.

Then, after just one year with the team, he moved on to Angers, playing for both the club’s first and second team until 2015. He spent a year with Ligue 2 club Orléans, for the 2015–16 Championnat National, helping the club promote. Upon returning to Angers, he stayed with the team for one more season before signing with Ligue 1 side Lille in 2017.

Lille head coach Marcelo Bielsa reportedly did his homework before signing the Ivorian youngster: he watched the recordings of every game Pépé played for Angers before seeking him out in person.

Under Bielsa, Pépé transitioned to the position of a striker, then, after Bielsa was replaced by Christophe Galtier, he changed spots again, playing as a winger.

By late last year, he picked up the pace, becoming a regular and even scoring a hat-trick (two from penalties) in a 3–2 away win over Amiens.

It was an open secret that several teams, including Spanish side Barcelona, were interested in him – and their interest grew exponentially after Pépé scored once and provided two assists in a 5–1 home win over Paris Saint-Germain this April.

In July, it was reported that Italian side Napoli agreed to sign the player for £71.7 million but the Italians were ultimately not the ones who signed him: on August 1, he joined Premier League club Arsenal for a club-record fee of 79 million euros – ZK 1.14 billion.

The Independent Observer

John Sakala is a Journalist yearning for independent journalism

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