FOOTBALL was probably the only chance for Nicolas Pepe to turn the fortune of his poverty-stricken family around.
A chance well taken, it must be added, as the forward is set to become Arsenal’s record signing once his £72million move from Lille is completed.
Nicolas Pepe’s road to success began in north east Paris, where he grew up in a poverty-stricken family of Ivorian migrants[/caption]
Born to Ivorian Muslim migrants in north east France, life wasn’t kind to Pepe in his early days.
His mum took up a job as a housekeeper while father Celestin became a prison guard in order to make ends meet.
With no money for toys, kickabouts were all that could keep him busy outside of school hours while growing up in north east Paris.
But in retrospect, Pepe probably thinks his humble beginnings were just a blessing in disguise.
It gave his life a meaning.
THE BIG QUESTION
Aged just six he was asked by a school teacher what he wanted to do in the future.
And there could only be one correct answer: playing football professionally.
Amusingly, Pepe – known for his lethal pace out wide on the pitch – spent his early days between the sticks.
It was only after his family moved to Poitiers in western France that his potential was recognised and he hung up his gloves for good.
Pepe joined a local club in the French fifth tier, where he dazzled coaches with his ability on the ball.
While his prison warden dad Celestin – who used to play football but never turned pro – put his job aside to train Nicolas and help him fulfil his potential.
He wanted to “live his own dream” through his son.
But it wouldn’t have been possible without the harsh lessons that Pepe was about to face at Angers.
Even though the talent was there, it wasn’t enough for the club’s academy chiefs when he joined in 2013.
Abdel Bouhazama, who ran Anger’s youth programme, told Bleacher Report about his tough love he showed for the teen.
Pepe had to learn the hard way that football isn’t just “fun” – that there are also the goals, the assists and the discipline he lacked on the pitch.
He would take runs at 5am to watch local binmen work – and learn how to appreciate the fact he could play football for a living.
And Pepe learnt his lesson.
Lille sporting director Luis Campos told France Football that it was “love at first sight” when he watched him play in a 1-1 draw with Rennes in November 2016.
Former Real Madrid scout Campos wasn’t even there to watch Pepe – but he stumbled across a gem.
Somebody who, he felt, could finally fill in the shoes of club legend Eden Hazard at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
And now, two years after joining Lille in 2017, Nicolas has just ended the most impressive season of his career.
He scored 23 goals and grabbed 12 assists – Hazard-like stats from his Ligue 1 times – running their rivals ragged on the right flank throughout the campaign.
Pace, dribbling skills, killer instinct and non-stop action have become Pepe’s trademarks – and earned him a well-fitting nickname: “Bip Bip”.
Appropriately likening him to Looney Tunes cartoon character Road Runner.
And, although, the fun part of his game has persisted, long gone are his childish antics.
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Pepe is a true professional and a family who – even though likes to socialise – considers his personal life a sacred territory.
He lets his football do the talking.
Bip Bip, the Coyotes of the Premier League. Beware.