Pepe won three league titles, two Spanish Cups and three UEFA Champions Leagues with Real Madrid, but having returned to the club he first served from 2004–07, the defender maintains that Porto were the making of him.
The Brazilian-born centre-back actually started out with Marítimo on the Portuguese island of Madeira but blossomed after joining Porto, winning two Ligas to earn Madrid’s attention. Now 36, he spoke to UEFA.com ahead of Porto’s meeting with Liverpool, hoping he might have more huge achievements to look back on once his playing days are over.
“[I have already won the UEFA Champions League three times] and this season it’s going to be four, God willing! We know we have a very difficult task, against a strong team [Liverpool] who play in the style of their coach. But we have to be ourselves, we have to be the same team we have been in this Champions League campaign, a cohesive team that fight for everything, looking for a positive result, looking to score goals – being ourselves. We have to respect Liverpool, who are a great team, but we are going to do our job.
“I’ll always say it was football that gave me everything in life – lots of friends, the chance to make my dreams come true. Returning to Porto was also my dream – to come back to the club where I was so happy. This is a team that taught me a lot and made me the player I am today.
“The first time [I joined] was difficult because I’d left a small island to come to the mainland. I had to adapt very quickly because this was just after Porto had won the Champions League. Yet I identified strongly with the club, the people at the club made me feel very comfortable and provided the best working conditions for me.
“Porto improve every single player because this is a very demanding club. Porto prepared me really well and this didn’t go unnoticed in Spain, as before I went to Real Madrid the club were known as a graveyard for centre-backs. They had amazing centre-backs that had failed there. I came from a league viewed by many as not as competitive as others, but I played [at Madrid] for ten years and won many trophies.
“Now I’m back here with Porto, with a lot of [other] good central defenders. Defenders who, in my opinion, could very well be playing for a club like Real Madrid because they’ve a lot of quality. So much so that [Éder] Militão was bought by Madrid, right?!
“I moved to Beşiktaş [in 2017] primarily because I wanted to experience a new culture. I really enjoyed my time in Turkey – I’m always going to feel warmth for the people there who always treated me very well, and I’m always going to have a place in my heart for Beşiktaş, who then gave me the chance to [rejoin] the club that own my heart, Porto.”