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Nicolas Pépé’s move to Arsenal: Why didn’t Bayern go for him?

Arsenal are set to break their transfer record and spend £72M on the Lille star. Wouldn’t he have helped the Bavarians?

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LOSC Lille Olympique Sporting Club v Angers sporting club de l’Ouest - Ligue 1 Photo by Johnny Fidelin/Icon Sport via Getty Images

After months of transfer speculation and clubs such as Manchester United, Napoli and Bayern Munich interested, it appears the Nicolas Pépé saga has finally reached it’s conclusion. Pépé is said to have arrived in north London for his medical with some fans even tracking his flight to the English capital.

Among other sites, the BBC and the Telegraph have reported this apparent “done deal” with the respected journalist Fabrizio Romano tweeting this:

When Pépé officially joins, he will become the fourth most expensive player of all time in the Premier League, eclipsing the fees paid for players like Kevin De Bruyne, Allison and Rodri. However, as with any big money signing (and especially so for Arsenal), people will be expecting Pépé to deliver from the get go.

Examining the fee

The widely reported £72m fee is on the very expensive side for a player who has had just one extraordinary season. Furthermore, Pépé is already 24; most players destined for the top should have already experienced a breakthrough season akin to Pépé’s, but at a younger age. This might suggest that Pépé has the potential of being a one season wonder ... or a flop.

People will point to Pépé’s extraordinary numbers in Ligue 1 as a way of justifying his price tag. But these numbers are inflated for not one but two reasons. Firstly, Pépé took penalties for Lille, accounting for around 41% of his goals in Ligue 1 last season: 22 goals — 9 penalties. Without the penalties, he would have scored 13 goals. While that is still great, it does not have the same appeal as 22 goals.

Secondly, at Lille Pépé was the star player, meaning he saw more of the ball and therefore enjoyed more chances to score and assist. We’ve seen the same thing happen with Riyadh Mahrez: at Leicester, Mahrez was the main man, but his numbers were inflated compared to his performances for a stronger team where he was not the focal point. Mahrez’s production has suffered severely since he moved to City.

Nonetheless, Pépé’s transfer may still be good business for Arsenal. It has been suggested that the London based club will pay only an initial £20M for Pépé, with the remaining £52M being paid over the course of 5 years. This could prove to be shrewd business by the Gunners in light of the fact that transfer prices are constantly rising. By paying in installments, their seasonal budget will never be heavily burdened (by the transfer), and in Pépé they have a player with the potential to rise to the top.

Why Bayern Munich didn’t make a play for Pépé

There are a variety of reasons why Bayern didn’t take their interest in Pépé further, the main one being that most of the club’s efforts are being concentrated on signing Leroy Sané from Manchester City.

Bayern continue to hold out hope that the German left winger will grace the Allianz Arena in the coming season. The current media narrative is that the Bavarians have made their first official offer to the player and his parent club.

Bayern wouldn’t be able to shell out around €100M on Sane and €79M (£72M) on Pépé in the same window. Hence, if there was ever a chance of getting Sané, Bayern simply would not have been able to afford Pépé from a financial aspect.

Another reason why Bayern ruled against making an offer is the fact that, even in his breakout season, Pépé still displayed numbers similar to that Bayern’s current wingers, Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman. Here is an understat comparison of Pépé and Gnabry:

As you can see, Gnabry beats Pépé handily in some categories and is extremely close in others (and keep in mind, the radar does not differentiate between open play and penalties). It’s amusing that Arsenal spent almost 80 million euros on Pépé layer when they had essentially the same guy in Gnabry lurking in their academy.

But that’s neither here nor there. It would be ludicrous for Bayern to spend the amount of money a Pépé deal would require when it’s likely that he would not even make it into the club’s starting XI. Even a club like Bayern cannot afford to spend that kind of money on a depth piece!

Another reason for Bayern’s lack of interest in Pépé was criticism from the front office itself. Both Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness allegedly were unconvinced by the winger; they thought the Ivorian required too much space to be a top class player and so killed the transfer.

Without the benefit of hindsight, it seems like all parties involved made the moves that were right for them. Only time will tell whether Bayern should have made a move for Arsenal’s new star.

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