Nicolas Pepe will arrive at Arsenal with the entire club and fanbase expecting him to score and create a bucketload of goals but did you know he used to be a goalkeeper?

Lille's Ivorian forward Nicolas Pepe celebrates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between Lille (LOSC) and Angers (SCO) at the Pierre-Mauroy Stadium in Villeneuve d'Ascq, near Lille, northern France, on May 18 2019. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP)
Lille’s Ivorian forward Nicolas Pepe celebrates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between Lille (LOSC) and Angers (SCO) at the Pierre-Mauroy Stadium in Villeneuve d’Ascq, near Lille, northern France, on May 18 2019. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP)

With 22 Ligue 1 goals and 11 assists in 38 games last season, Nicolas Pepe knows how to make things happen at the top end of the pitch but it could have all been so different.

Growing up in the Paris suburbs, Pepe played as a goalkeeper for his local boys team before he moved both home and positions.

It has served him well. “Until fourteen, I was a goalkeeper at my club of Solitaires Paris-Est,” he told France Football.

“I know how a goalkeeper moves in certain situations, so I know how and where to put the ball.”

His father, a prison guard at the time, was transferred to a new job at Vivonne prison in Poitiers and it was during that move that Pepe decided he’d also move outfield.

It was an inspired decision although his three goals and two assists in 47 Angers games did not hint at what was to come when he moved to Lille.

Now, he stands on the cusp of a £72m move to Arsenal and the Premier League beckons. So what changed?

His attitude, as Pepe himself admits.

“Before, I needed to be reframed. Sometimes you had to scream at me or get me out so I could invest more. 

“Today, I am fully alive.

“When I saw myself, you could say that I was nonchalant or that I did not like what I was doing, or that I did not want to do anything. You could say, “He does not care.”

“I took it for a game, for fun, for leisure football, pleasure.

“Now it’s my job.

Lille forward Nicolas Pepe arrives to take part in a TV show on May 19, 2019 in Paris, as part of the 28th edition of the UNFP (French National Professional Football players Union) trophy ceremony. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)
Lille forward Nicolas Pepe arrives to take part in a TV show on May 19, 2019 in Paris, as part of the 28th edition of the UNFP (French National Professional Football players Union) trophy ceremony. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

“If we take a ten-second video of myself four years ago and one of the same duration today, there will be a difference in attitude.

“On the field, I could annoy my own teammates. What I did was not rhyming. I dribbled past a player and there was nothing behind. I wanted to play alone. I only ran when the the ball was with me.

“Now, in Lille, I seek efficiency and I make efforts for others, so it’s ‘us’.

“I am no longer the one who thought only of himself, who said he was the strongest.

“I have changed, become mature, I have evolved and I still hope to evolve.

“I do not want to shine for me anymore, but for the team. To think of becoming the saviour is a danger that can befall me. When I want at all costs to score, I am attracted by the goal, I forget the withdrawal, and I thwart [the team].

“The coach pointed it out to me. While when you give to the team, she gives you back automatically. I do not want to be a superfluous player or a player who shines alone.

“I am no longer the one who thinks only of himself, who said he was the strongest.

“I have changed, become mature, I have evolved and I still hope to evolve. I do not want to shine for me anymore, but for the team.”

I can’t wait to see him shining in the red and white of Arsenal.

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Writer. Feminist. Dreamer. Gooner. Owner of DailyCannon.com, writing about Arsenal since 2008. Sometimes found in the Guardian, Vice.com & elsewhere talking queer issues, politics & football. If in doubt, assume sarcasm.