Martinez hails Pepe's 'love for the game' as Portugal veteran stars at Euro 2024

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Portugal veteran Pepe is the oldest player ever to appear at the European Championship but that did not stop him being one of the best performers in Saturday's win over Turkey as coach Roberto Martinez described the 41-year-old as a "wonderful example".

4 weeks ago
The Porto centre-back, who turned 41 in February, set the record for the competition's oldest player when he appeared in his country's 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in their opening game at Euro 2024. He passed the mark set by Hungary goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly, who was 40 years and 86 days when he played against Belgium in the last 16 at Euro 2016, and Pepe was again in the side for Saturday's 3-0 win over Turkey.
Not only that, he was outstanding as he marshalled the back line alongside Ruben Dias in Dortmund, helping Martinez's team to a victory which allowed them to clinch their place in the knockout stages. "If there was a neutral guy watching the game and he saw Pepe playing he would never believe he is 41 years old," Martinez said.
"He is an example, a professional, the way he reads the game, the way he competes. "He uses the 24 hours to be a professional footballer," Martinez added when asked how Pepe manages to continue competing at such a high level when most players his age have long since retired. "We all know players who maybe only spend two hours a day preparing themselves. The rest of the time they live life normally and expect one day to retire.
"Pepe doesn't do that. He uses 24 hours to get himself recovered. When he is not recovering he makes sure he has the right sleep patterns. "Everything is down to the detail and the focus is to play for another year. Then it is just that love for the game, focusing on knowing the opposition, knowing tactical aspects," added Martinez. Pepe was born in Brazil but went on to represent Portugal after moving there as a young player and becoming naturalised.

He made his debut for the national team as a 24-year-old in 2007, playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo who is still his teammate now at the age of 39. In fact, Ronaldo is just behind Pepe as the next oldest outfield player to participate at the Euros. Pepe is now playing at his fifth European Championship, one fewer than Ronaldo. Both were pillars of the side that won Euro 2016 in France.
"He is a wonderful example, but of course the body needs to follow. He has genetics that I don't think you can buy anywhere," joked Martinez of Pepe, who played 34 games in the season just finished for Porto, including seven in the Champions League. "I think he is an example for all young players of how a player can extend his career by what he does 24 hours a day."
Portugal are one of the favourites to win another Euros in Germany with the experience of Pepe and Ronaldo - former teammates at Real Madrid - added to the immense strength in depth and exciting young talent also available to Martinez. Saturday's win saw them cruise through to the last 16 with one group game against Georgia still to come, in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday.
The coach might be tempted to rest Pepe as he eyes several changes ahead of a last-16 tie in Frankfurt on July 1. "We are first in the group and we can make changes in the next game which for me is very important as there are lots of players in the dressing room who deserve to play," said Martinez, who notably has two supremely gifted young defenders waiting in the wings in Goncalo Inacio (22) and Antonio Silva (20).
"They showed that during the training camp before the tournament in Portugal. We need to give them opportunities to see how competitive they are."

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