During a piece for the Chronicle, French League expert Nathan Staples has tipped Rafa Benitez to reignite his interest in ex-target Nicolas Pepe – the Ivorian forward who could be available this summer despite an impressive season with Lille.
Pepe is a player we’ve been regularly linked with since January 2017, however the 22-year-old opted to remain in Ligue 1 last summer, with Lille beating Benitez to his £10m signature.
Since then it’s been a year of mixed emotions for the winger. His Lille side currently sit second bottom of the French League, however he’s gone on to bag an impressive 12 goals and 5 assists in all comps – an impressive tally for a young wide man playing in a struggling team.
“Nicolas Pépé was in demand last summer and despite a rocky start to life in Lille, he’s a player that Newcastle should continue to monitor.
“The Ivorian did not score until November but since then he has grabbed 11 goals and three assists (in the league) as LOSC continue to try and scramble away from danger.
“His form and Les Dogues’ plight could play into the Magpies’ hands, as the club are reportedly on the brink of financial ruin, while the 22-year- old would likely want to avoid playing in Ligue 2 next season. Able to play on either wing as well as up-front, he could grow into a real weapon for Benitez next season.”
He later suggests he’ll carry a £20m price-tag this summer, but I’m quite certain a cash-strapped Lille will happily accept something in and around the £10m paid for him last June.
People will pull out the ‘not another player from the French league’ card, but a 22-year-old (who can play anywhere across the front three) involved in 17 goals for a struggling side is one worth looking at – especially when Benitez is clearly an admirer already.
Definitely one to watch this summer – especially if Lille are relegated from the French top tier in the coming weeks.