Pepe calls on Cristiano Ronaldo to 'come to Besiktas'
“Come to Besiktas” fans implored, taking to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in their droves to call upon players around the world to join the Turkish club.
Portuguese defender Pepe was just one that heeded the calls — compatriot Ricardo Quaresma and former Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo were others — trading the Bernabeu for the “beautiful project” underway on the banks of the Bosphorus river.
Now, while Real Madrid’s travails in La Liga make headlines around the world — the Spaniards are 10 points behind leaders Barcelona in the Spanish league — Besiktas are on the verge of reaching the UEFA Champions League last 16 for the first time in the club’s history.
“I had many offers from many big, important European clubs,” Pepe, who joined the Turkish champions on a free transfer, tells CNN Sport. “When Besiktas came to me with their offer and their project, it grabbed my attention.
“Many, many people sent me messages on social media. I couldn’t not go. I couldn’t turn my back on all this affection that the people had given me.
“I said I have to go to Besiktas. It’s impossible not to go to Besiktas!”
Unbeaten at Vodafone Park for two years, the Black Eagles only need a point on Tuesday against Pepe’s former club Porto to top Group G of Europe’s premier club competition.
“Turkish people live football. Football is a passion of theirs. They demonstrate it with love and affection for their team.”
‘I’d love Ronaldo to come’
One man who has so far resisted the allure of the reigning Turkish champions is Pepe’s compatriot and close friend Cristiano Ronaldo.
During a live video on his personal Instagram page in September, the Real Madrid star was asked to “#ComeToBesiktas” on numerous occasions and took the time to respond to the fans’ pleas.
“Pepe’s there, and Quaresma!” the 32-year-old forward laughed. “They don’t need me!”
But Pepe would pick his former Real Madrid teammate to join him in Istanbul over any other player in the world.
“Of course I would like for Cristiano to come here,” Pepe tells CNN Sport, singling him out as a “more complete” player than Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
“He’s a person for whom I have maximum respect; a friend; an extremely important person to me. If it were possible for this to happen, of course I’d love for him to come to Besiktas.”
The duo were club teammates for eight years, turning out for Los Blancos over 700 times between them on their way to winning countless honors.
Both are graduates of the Portuguese youth system and both had a hand on the trophy during their nation’s finest footballing hour at Euro 2016. Indeed, Pepe was named man of the match as Portugal beat hosts France in the Paris final.
There can be few that know four-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo better.
“Off the pitch, Cristiano is an extremely normal person,” says Pepe.
“When something gets out in the media talking about him… I look and I say: ‘This can’t be. It’s a lie.’
“People talk without knowing the real Cristiano. He’s a normal person with normal habits like us.
“He likes his relatives. He loves his sons. He stresses the importance of being a father which I think is important. He’s does this perfectly and naturally.”
Ronaldo and Pepe are set to share a dressing room at the upcoming World Cup finals — a “privilege” in the words of the uncompromising central defender.
Portugal topped Group B of European qualifying with nine wins from 10 and head to Russia in good shape.
Determined to move on from the personal disappointments of the 2014 World Cup when he headbutted Germany’s Thomas Muller, Pepe’s pride in representing his country is allied with a new found maturity.
“Firstly, we greatly respect our opponents,” the 34-year-old says, revealing the secrets of their unexpected Euro 2016 triumph. “We know our limitations but we also know what we’re capable of. We’re humble in every game. Feet on the ground.
“We work as a collective unit, not as individuals. This is Portugal today: a stable national team focused on what we need to do to plan for the World Cup.”
Victory, he says, would mean everything.
“It’s a tiring but beautiful objective for a person like myself,” says Pepe. “To defend your country as I defend Portugal, I think I have to feel proud.
“I’m a person who fought for what I have. I won’t sit back and hope that everything comes to me. No, I will continue to fight to achieve more and more.”