Real Madrid hero Pepe now conquering the Champions League with Besiktas

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At 34, the uncompromising defender is proving he still has plenty left in the tank as the Turkish team saunter towards the knockout stages

Love him or loathe him, there is no doubt that Pepe is a born winner. Real Madrid's sparkling record of three Champions League titles in four seasons would be barely imaginable unaccompanied by the Portugal international's snarling face and razor-sharp boot, always ready to act when an encroaching forward needed to be taken down by any means necessary. 

Besiktas 21/10 to beat Porto

The centre-back's wonderful spell at the Santiago Bernabeu came to an end in the summer, when he was released on a free transfer after 10 years of sterling service. But it was far from the end for Pepe, who is once again impressing in his new home of Istanbul. 

Pepe has been almost ever-present for Besiktas since sealing a lucrative move to Turkey, missing just one Super Lig game. And while in that period the club have made a solid if unspectacular start to the league season, it is in the Champions League that the Turkish giants are really turning heads. 

Three wins in four have rocketed the club to top of their group, no mean feat in a pool that includes Ligue 1 champions Monaco, Porto and German surprise package RB Leipzig — all of whom have fallen to Senol Gunes' charges. A rock-solid defence led by Pepe has proven key, as Besiktas have restricted their rivals to a miserly three goals in four games.

Besiktas Monaco Pepe Keita Balde Champions League 01112017

Victory on Tuesday over his former club Porto in Istanbul would clinch qualification as winners from what was on paper one of the most open, competitive groups in the competition, and prove once more Pepe's uncanny ability to raise himself for the big games. 

His services, of course, have not come cheaply. Coveted also by Paris Saint-Germain prior to the summer, Pepe turned down Ligue 1 in favour of a momentous payday in the Super Lig. 

For two years in Istanbul, the defender will receive €9.5 million, as well as a bonus of €4,000 every time he takes the field for Besiktas. It is an astronomical figure for a player who will be 36 at the end of his contract, not to mention one who in recent seasons has struggled with a series of injuries. 

Indeed, it was precisely the fact that Besiktas, unlike PSG and a number of other teams from Europe's elite, were willing to offer him a deal beyond the first season that tipped the balance in their favour. According to the defender, however, it was the Turkish team's insistence that finally convinced him. 

"I had many offers from many big, important European clubs," he explained to 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.

Pepe PS

"I said I have to go to Besiktas. It's impossible not to go to Besiktas!"

Pepe did not exactly endear himself to fans at the start, conceding a horribly clumsy penalty on his debut that led to Super Cup defeat. But from that inauspicious beginning he has rarely been less than impeccable in his defending.

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His aggressive, proactive defending has proved the bane of strikers in Group G, and so far at least he has avoided the disciplinary problems that have always dogged the notorious hothead — a single booking in the Champions League so far, and four overall, is a more than acceptable figure for him. 

With Pepe at the heart of defence, Besiktas are certainly no shrinking violets. The Turkish side also boast Serbian hardman Dusko Tosic and Chile's Gary Medel, nicknamed 'Pitbull' for his often vicious behaviour on the pitch. In just 12 Superlig games the team have picked up an impressive 39 yellow cards and five reds, three of which came in a furious end to the Istanbul derby away to Fenerbahce. 

In the Champions League, however, the prize of a last-16 place has seemingly kept Pepe and his team-mates in line. The defender is desperate to show that his career at elite level did not end with his Madrid exit, and if Besiktas get past Porto and secure their spot amongst Europe's best, nobody will be left doubting his talent — even as he enters the final stages of his playing days.

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