LOS ANGELES – When big European clubs take tours in growing soccer markets, such as the United States or Asia, the teams receive a fair amount of skepticism. Critics cite the constant travel or multitude of fan distractions as obstacles preventing the team from achieving the best practice possible. Also prevalent is the opinion that the friendly competitions with local clubs are meaningless, and only provide a chance for the star players to relax before the real season begins.
En Espanol: Pepe en conferencia de prensa
Not so, says Real Madrid’s Pepe.
“I believe in working hard every preseason to prepare myself,” the star central defender emphasized during a Tuesday press conference at UCLA, “I believe that it is necessary to start well against the strong competition in our excellent league.”
Pepe dismissed the idea that a preseason stop in Los Angeles could be more relaxing than helpful, and defended manager Jose Mourinho’s decision to embark on another North American tour and another stay at UCLA.
“Mourinho knows what is best for the club,” the Portuguese international affirmed, “and as a player I will give my best in every training session and every game to help the club. This is the mentality that Mourinho has instilled in the club.”
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Pepe’s statement displays the same confidence in his manager’s philosophy that goalkeeper Iker Casillas had expressed when meeting with the press two days earlier, and the 29-year old defender believes that his coach’s ideal of hard work is reflected in his own approach.
“Every training session I’m working to get even better and stronger so I can reach the highest level for every minute of the game, in order to help my team,” he added.
Asked if this approach has paid off, Pepe nodded. “I believe that Real Madrid will be ready,” he paused, “because we have to be ready.”
Expanding on that point, the defender reiterated the club’s goals set forth by Casillas days before, also agreeing that the team is now well-positioned to capture multiple trophies.
“This year we know each other much better, and I believe that in our third season with Mourinho we know his philosophy and are as a result much more capable than we have been to fight for each title.”
While some skeptics may not be wholly convinced, Pepe believes that preseason friendlies against MLS clubs, like their match against the Galaxy at The Home Depot Center on Thursday night (7:30 pm PT, ESPN2, espn3.com, 1330 AM, LIVE CHAT), offer quality competition and valuable experience.
“In the last few years we’ve returned to the United States, every year the footballers here have more quality, and are more competitive,” he said. “It’s going to be a difficult game for us.
“That’s all part of getting ready to play our season and we must make sure that things come together.”