Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski is one of Europe’s most prolific strikers, but he has not been able to replicate his success with the national side. Can he find that unerring finishing touch in Augsburg?
Robert Lewandowski is one of the most successful strikers in recent memory. He has scored more than 70 goals in his last three seasons with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. However, he has recently signed for German club Augsburg. This could be a huge mistake for the striker who models himself on Robert Lewandowski. Read more in detail here: robert lewandowski.
Ricardo Pepi, an 18-year-old striker for FC Dallas, joined German Bundesliga club FC Augsburg for about €17 million ($20 million) on Monday, making him the most expensive homegrown player in MLS history.
Pepi had an incredible 2021 season, scoring 13 goals in 31 league appearances for Dallas and earning a call-up to the United States men’s national team (after a difficult decision over who to represent internationally), where he scored a goal and two assists in his debut against Honduras and two more goals in his second appearance against Jamaica.
Augsburg, who have finished between 12th and 15th in the Bundesliga for the previous six seasons, scored a major coup with the acquisition. Augsburg, who finished barely above the relegation zone, had competition from Bundesliga rivals Wolfsburg, as well as a slew of great clubs, including Liverpool, Manchester City, Ajax, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich.
So, what do we have to look forward to from the teen sensation? Is Augsburg the best option for him?
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Who is he and where did he come from?
Pepi is the latest European-bound talent to emerge from FC Dallas’ excellent school, having moved from El Paso, Texas, to Dallas at the age of 13 (with his family following a year later). Before him, Chris Richards (Bayern), Bryan Reynolds (Roma), and Reggie Cannon (Boavista) paved a road, but Pepi has tremendous potential.
He made his MLS debut in 2019 after earning his first contract as a 16-year-old following a time with North Texas SC (Dallas’ affiliate club in USL League One). As a regular first-team player, he showed great maturity by scoring three goals in 20 games in 2020, but then stepped it up a level in his breakthrough season last year.
His technical, tactical, and physical development has been so impressive that he will depart MLS as a complete centre-forward as he could be at such a young age. If his 2021 season is any indication, the striker has an excellent chance of becoming a Bundesliga sensation. He was not only named MLS Young Player of the Year and the league’s youngest player to score a hat trick, but he also had a solid USMNT debut.
While patience will be required with Pepi, as with any kid going to a higher league on a foreign continent, several indicators suggest that the striker will adjust swiftly to life in the Bundesliga.
To begin with, he is eager to learn. Pepi went on a three-week trial with Bayern in February 2021 alongside Dallas teammates Justin Che, Edwin Cerrillo, Thomas Roberts, Dante Sealy, and Brandon Servania. Pepi evidently learnt a lot from the two clubs’ yearly player development collaboration, which has developed in recent years (with the permanent acquisition of Richards and a five-month loan for Che).
He remarked, “Training over there is rigorous.” “With ball movement and recovery, there are a lot of technical components to the game. Because that’s what they look for, I’d say there was a lot of running…. I want to reach to their level, and I know there’s work to be done, but I’m also glad to know where I am in comparison to them.”
Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a former chief executive and sports director of AS Monaco and a Norwegian football scout and executive. He’ll be writing for ESPN on a regular basis on the business of soccer and the scouting process.
Pepi has also continued to improve his skills in order to meet the obstacles that have been thrown his way. It remains to be seen how he adapts to the Bundesliga, but Pepi’s improvement over the last 18 months definitely demonstrates a young guy with the drive and determination to thrive in European football.
His general centre-forward game, paired with his quickness and work rate, distinguishes him. While most adolescent attackers don’t develop their hold-up game until they’re in their early twenties, Pepi, who stands 6-foot-1, already has the ability to drop deep to get on the ball and is willing to track back and press defenders as the attack’s focal point.
Another quality that distinguishes the American from most of his contemporaries is his exceptional balance and strength, which he often displays while scooping up the ball in space before starting a dribble. He’s difficult to catch or knock off the ball in such situations, which makes him great for counterattacks.
Pepi already has a high percentage of shots on goal (46 percent in MLS last season) and a versatile finishing style with both feet that keeps opposition goalkeepers guessing. He scores the majority of his goals from within the penalty box, but his clinical finishing makes him a dangerous opponent.
Ricardo Pepi has chosen to continue his career in Germany. Getty Images/Stefan Puchner/picture alliance
Pepi’s tight control is better today than it was before the 2020 season, however he still prefers backheels and fancy flicks over holding on to the ball and making the more rational but less spectacular pass.
His hold-up play has improved as well, but he could do a better job of guarding the ball once he gets it. He is, however, putting in the necessary effort to develop, and he said in September that he was studying some of the finest attackers in the Bundesliga in order to learn from them.
“I compare my game to guys like Robert [Lewandowski] and Erling Haaland,” he told CBS. “I like watching their motions and working on video projects with them. I prefer to compare myself to Lewandowski, who is one of the finest attackers in the world.”
What comes next?
Paying a €17 million transfer price for a teenager is a Bundesliga luxury normally saved for Bundesliga heavyweights like Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, or Bayer Leverkusen, but Pepi was clearly persuaded to join Augsburg, with the possibility of plenty of playing time likely being the determining factor.
There’s no disputing that both the club and the players are under pressure to produce right away, particularly because Pepi was brought in to score goals, which are in short supply for Augsburg, who have just 17 in 17 games this season.
While his record cost, along with Augsburg’s fragile league position (15th), will raise expectations despite his youth and inexperience, Pepi’s abilities and character should offer his new team renewed hope of escaping relegation. When the World Cup comes around later this year, the USMNT will also aim to gain from his departure.
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