Pepe's problem? He's not very good

Row over stamp masks defender's lack of talent as Barça outsmart Jose Mourinho's Real again

As if failing to beat Barcelona in their last seven home games against them and losing the last three "clasicos" were not enough, Real Madrid fans were yesterday recoiling at the thought that while their rivals have the world's most adored player... they have the world's most abhorred.

Pepe stamping on Lionel Messi's hand was the enduring image of Real Madrid's latest capitulation against their great rivals and the latest in a long line of the Portuguese international's crimes against football. Even by his own low standards his behaviour had been, as Madrid-supporting paper Marca described it yesterday – "embarrassing".

Pepe last night apologised but claimed his actions were "unintentional". He said: "I wish to say yesterday's incident with Leo Messi was unintentional, but I nevertheless want to apologise to him if he was offended because all I do is defend my team and this institution. I give my heart and soul, and the thought of hurting a colleague has never entered my mind."

The first-half yellow card for a late lunge at Sergi Busquet's ankle was predictable – it was Pepe's eighth card in 11 games against Barcelona. He could argue it goes with the midfield ball-winning territory to which he had been assigned. But his feigning injury to the face, after a brush with Cesc Fabregas in the second half was pitiful and his stepping on Messi's hand just plain cynical. The fact that Messi made less of the stud marks than Pepe had earlier made of the non-existent contact between him and Fabregas left him looking even worse.

When Wayne Rooney tweeted "what an idiot" he opened himself up to accusations of not being in a position to judge. But while his hot-headed moments come in the heat of battle Pepe's madness is calculated and badly calculated at that – serving neither to intimidate the opposition nor to inspire his team-mates.

A poor man's Puyol would be a generous description of a player sent off five times in his Real Madrid career. The Barcelona captain possesses all of Pepe's aggression but channels it into scoring crucial goals, making saving tackles and winning matches. He has now gone 51 games since being on the losing side for Barcelona and is unbeaten in the Bernabeu in three years.

The worst thing about Pepe from his manager Jose Mourinho's point of view may be that, all losses of discipline aside, he is just not good enough. Not good enough to justify the close to €30m Real Madrid paid for him in 2007 nor for the sizeable contract extension Mourinho's pleas helped him win last season.

When employed in midfield, that long Patrick Vieira-like stride helps him cover the ground but the gallops forward rarely finish with an incisive final ball and defensively, for all his athleticism, he remains chaotic and inconsistent.

He was dozing four minutes in to the second half when who else but Puyol ghosted in front of him to head Barcelona level. Pep Guardiola's side had got nothing from their previous 196 corner kicks this season. Thanks to Pepe's concentration failure they had broken that dry run.

Pepe was banned for 10 games in 2009 for kicking out wildly at Getafe's Javier Casquero in the penalty area as his opponent lay on the ground, and then swinging a punch in the resulting mêlée. He was protected by his club who took no internal action against him. Asked if action would be taken over the stamp on Messi, Mourinho replied: "If it was deliberate then yes." He was too busy fuming at the goal Madrid had conceded due to Pepe's error to put up any greater defence of his player.

"Pepe treading on Messi was senseless and lamentable," said Xavi. "When the ball is in play then you can say 'well that's football' but when the ball has gone it is unacceptable. Someone should take action," said Puyol.

Mourinho could at least be grateful that some of the fall-out from yet another defeat against the team he was specifically hired to overcome was focusing on Pepe not being fit to wear Real Madrid's famous white shirt and not on whether he was fit to out-think Guardiola.

In nine games against him Mourinho has only won once, drawing three and losing the other five. Most alarmingly things are not getting any better. He has lost the last three and it's conceivable that he will lose the next two as well – with those games being the return leg next week and the next league game also at Camp Nou.

A worst case scenario is that Real Madrid also draw Barcelona in the Champions League and lose both legs. Mourinho could win the Spanish league and yet have been beaten by Barça in his last seven matches. It would be the hollowest of title wins for fans whose priority is beating Barça, but it wouldn't bother a coach looking to complete a grand slam of titles in Europe's top three leagues.

How would he feel at the end of the season if he fails to beat Barcelona but wins the league, he was asked after this latest defeat. "I will feel great," he said.

A cup exit next week certainly would not be the end of Real Madrid's season. When Sergio Ramos dropped the trophy under the wheels of the open top bus the team were celebrating on last season it was a Freudian slip – the competition is the least important in Spain by some distance. But there is going out with dignity and going out in shame.

Next week's return leg comes a day before Mourinho turns 49. Madrid fans are hoping he throws caution to the wind and brings Mesut Özil or Kaka back in to his midfield. Making room for a playmaker by either returning Pepe to the centre of defence or probably better still leaving him at home in Madrid.

A Real struggle: Mourinho v Barça

29 Nov 2010 (La Liga): Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid

16 April 2011 (La Liga): Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona

20 April (Copa del Rey final): Barcelona 0-1 Real Madrid [aet]

27 April (Champs Lg s-f, 1st leg): Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona

3 May (Champs Lg s-f, 2nd leg): Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid

14 Aug (Spanish Super Cup, 1st leg): Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona

17 Aug (Spanish Super Cup, 2nd leg): Barcelona 3-2 Real Madrid

10 Dec (La Liga): Real Madrid 1-3 Barcelona

18 Jan 2012 (Copa del Rey q-f, 1st leg): Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona

Jose overall P9 W1 D3 L5 F9 A19.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones