Why you should care
Because never does a man stand so tall as when he stoops to stomp on the hand of a man in need.
There’s a twisted delight to be had in watching Real Madrid’s oft-injured central defender sensation, Képler Laveran Lima Ferreira, or Pepe, do what he does best. During the 2014 FIFA World Cup, playing for Portugal against Germany, Pepe walked away, leaving Thomas Müller on the ground, a victim of the sport’s frequent and unavoidable collisions. Pepe’s heart, very possibly full of concern for the welfare of a fallen compatriot, returned to where Müller sat and leaned down, not so much to offer a helping hand as to head-butt Müller with all of his might.
Pepe was subsequently red-carded and his team lost 0-4, but his point had been made: There would be no dirtier player in soccer in the known universe. Not if he could help it, and he most certainly could. You see, in a history that could just as easily be the history of the red card — a penalty designator for those not familiar with the rules of the “gentle sport” — the Brazilian Pepe cuts a dirty swath across the playing field.
His tactics have ranged from stomping on the hand of a downed Lionel Messi in 2012 — unintentionally, Pepe claimed — to his 2009 pièce de résistance: knocking down an opposing midfielder in the penalty area, then kicking the fallen opponent twice before being yanked away from him, only to return to push his head into the field while stomping on him. Pepe then proceeded to punch another player in the face. All in a day’s work.
His reward? A 10-game season-ending ban. His response? Probably very much like it was in a 2012 incident where Pepe braced a ref in the locker room, calling him “a rip-off motherfucker.” Suspension in that case? Two games.
“Guys like this are typically adored by the home supporters but furiously hated by the rest,” says Kristian Dávid, an 18-year vet of the game (striker and sometime left winger) and a coach for Swedish teams. “But in general, guys like Pepe are good to have, to be honest. Just to be able to get your opponents off-balance.”
So Pepe (whose management declined to make him available for comment) joins a rogues’ gallery that includes 27-year-old Diego Costa (the “most disliked man in football,” according to British press), Zlatan Ibrahimović (kicked a teammate in the face while the teammate was being interviewed on-camera) and Hall of Famer Vinnie Jones, who has since gone on to a film career. Jones’ usual roles? Guys who beat other guys to bits, naturally.
“It’s not so much the fact that these guys are just fucking shit up that I like,” says Kevin Conahan, a radio DJ and 18-year soccer vet. “Well, actually, it is that.” That, and probably that anyone willing to play a long-haul game like soccer as though it’s a life-and-death endeavor, deserves being paid attention to.
And we are.