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Pepe deserves credit after brilliant UEFA Euro 2016

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Most reports focused on Cristiano Ronaldo, but Pepe showed he still has some fuel left in the tank.

Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Most of the talk since Sunday's final has been about Cristiano Ronaldo and his knee injury; but while we're waiting for the official medical report to come out this might be a good time to say well done to Pepe.  Another Euro champion in the Real Madrid camp surely can't be a bad thing; even if the big defender's achievements tend to be overshadowed a little by his friend and colleague further up the field.

So often a rock in the centre of defence last season, Pepe has undeniably matured in recent years.  Gone are the unwanted antics and play-acting  -€”with the exception of a couple of ‘moments' in the Champions League final against Atlético -  and instead his contribution to the success of both Real and the Portuguese national side will be remembered for timely tackles, leadership and commitment.

Pepe's no-nonsense approach to defending has led to him picking up several injuries along the way.  A thigh strain forced him to miss the Euro 16 semi-final when Portugal overcame Iceland and almost put him out of the final.  He's used to dealing with the injuries though; and having suffered his fair share of these last season he'll have known what he needed to do to get fit in time for the final.

Pepe's position as a central defender lends itself to injuries because he's playing in an area of the field where physical contact is unavoidable; and that in itself carries an injury risk.  How many defenders do we know who don't make physical challenges?   It's impossible for him not to get physically involved; and that's where the maturity of recent years comes in to the spotlight.  The Pepe of old would frequently get involved with the opposition -€” think Diego Costa for example - and rise to the bait in volatile situations; coming out more often than not on the wrong side of the referees despite perhaps being innocent to begin with until goaded.

Still, the impression remains of being the player the media loves to hate.  After the Champions League Final for example, Pepe had a lot of bad press but in some respect he's made himself an easy target in the past.  That said, he's making himself less of a target than in days of old; but critics tend to have long memories and the popular image promulgated by the press may take some time yet to shake off.

However, being completely analytical, the facts are that we rarely see Pepe writhing on the ground nowadays with the exception of the incidents mentioned earlier.  His presence is a comfortable influence on those around him and this is something that's widely recognised by his peers.  Former France international Frank Leboeuf acknowledged as much when he stated that in his opinion, Pepe was a more consistent player in the Euro 16 competition than Antoine Griezmann, voted by UEFA as the tournament's best individual player.

I would like to think that one of the turning points in Pepe's career would be around the time when Fernando Hierro came back to the club as a coach under Carlo Ancelotti and the former Real legend's influence would have rubbed off on him.   Pepe's always said he's an open admirer of the former Spain defender, now coach at Real Oviedo, and having had Hierro as a mentor will have helped him immensely.

They also say that becoming a dad works wonders where seeing situations in a different light is concerned and people have attributed Pepe's rise in stature on the field to the fact that he's become a real family man off it.  Rumour also has it that with Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez as one of his greatest admirers, Pepe has repaid the President's faith in him by behaving like a model professional; allying his undoubted commitment with a sense of measured restraint.

You can always tell when players are enjoying their game; you can see it in their faces.  Against the French on Sunday night Pepe was relaxed but focussed while the anthems were being played but you could still sense that ‘coiled spring' effect was evident.  As Real hope to build on last season, Pepe will no doubt find himself in the thick of the action once again as he enters the last remaining year of his current contract.   The successes of the UCL and Euro 16 will provide the inspiration for Pepe to start the season the way he finished the Euros; as a winner and a steady professional.