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How much longer can Lille hold on to Nicolas Pepe?

COMMENT    By Kunle Fayiga     Follow on Twitter

Since LOSC Lille won the Ligue 1 title back in 2011, they’ve been on a downward spiral. Last season was one of their worst as they finished in 17th place, just one point from the relegation-playoff spot.

One would think more misery awaited them for the current campaign, but surprisingly they have started with a bang.

Indeed, the Hauts-de-France based outfit have recorded eight wins from 12 league games to currently sit in second place on the log, behind obvious leaders Paris Saint-Germain.

One man who has been the dominant force for Les Dogues is Nicolas Pepe. The Ivorian international has had a hand in 15 goals (eight goals, seven assists) in all 12 top-flight games so far and that’s a pretty fascinating stat for a man who is predominantly a right-winger. 

The highlight was his hat-trick in the 3-2 away win at Amiens on September 15, 2018, although he did net the consolation goal on Friday as Lille fell to a 2-1 defeat at PSG.

He won the Ligue 1 Player of the Month for September, becoming the first African to win the individual award since ex-Lille attacker Sofiane Boufal in April 2016.

Indeed, with this fine form, Pepe looks poised to surpass his haul of 13 Ligue 1 goals last season.

It is difficult for such displays to go unnoticed and the Mantes-la-Jolie-born player has caught the eyes of many suitors. The likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Barcelona have all been rumoured to have interest in the eight-time capped Ivorian.

The Red Devils are in dire need of a natural right-winger, a position that has been a strength for them down the years but utilising the likes of Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Marital – who aren’t natural widemen - has led to inconsistency.

For Bayern, they need replacements for the ageing duo of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, who have a combined 69 years of age. In the case of Arsenal, there is need for more depth in Unai Emery’s ever-improving squad which will be essential in challenging for top honours.

Les Dogues have had fantastic players down the years, from Eden Hazard to Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy, Kevin Mirallas, and not forgetting big African stars like Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, Peter Odemwingie among many others. 

Ultimately, these players sought pastures new in order to boost their profiles and earnings.

The real battle Lille face is to keep hold of Pepe till the end of the current campaign, as losing their top scorer in January could seriously dent their hopes of reaching the Champions League.