Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says he can count on Pepe “until the end,” but hinted that the defender may leave the club this summer.
Pepe is out of contract at the Santiago Bernabeu in June and there has been no progress in talks over a new deal, with Madrid reportedly offering a one-year extension and the Portugal international and his agent Jorge Mendes holding out for two.
Amid this uncertainty, reports have claimed that Pepe will take up a big-money offer from Chinese club Hebei China Fortune, who are managed by his former Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini.
Asked about the situation at a news conference, Zidane said he was happy to be able to use the centre-back for the moment, but could not say what would happen when the current season was over.
“Pepe is an important player and when he plays he always does his job,” Zidane said. “That is most interesting to me right now. I cannot say anything about his contract, it is not my concern at the moment. I will count on him until the end.”
They also have two promising centre-backs out on loan Jesus Vallejo, 20, has been earning rave reviews at Eintracht Frankfurt this season, although Diego Llorente, 23, has played less regularly at Malaga.
After two months out with a calf strain, Pepe returned to action as a substitute for Ramos in the 3-1 Champions League round-of-16 first-leg victory at home to Napoli last week while he started Saturday’s 2-0 win over Espanyol, but he has been left out of the matchday squad for Wednesday’s La Liga game at Valencia.
Zidane said such a decision was normal given the options he had available.
“[Pepe] will play some games, others no, that will not change,” he said. “We have eight very good defenders and must leave some out sometimes.”