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15 July 2024

Mourinho stands by Pepe, calls him up for Bilbao game

By Reuters

Jose Mourinho stood by under-fire defender Pepe on Saturday and called him up to the Real Madrid squad to play Athletic Bilbao in La Liga this weekend. 

Portugal international Pepe has dominated headlines since Wednesday's 2-1 King's Cup quarter-final first leg defeat to Barcelona, when television cameras caught him stamping on Lionel Messi's hand when the player was on the ground. 

The Madrid-based media, who are normally supportive of Real, were scathing in their criticism of the player. 
A video message he recorded for the club's website, when he said it had been unintentional and asked for forgiveness if Messi had felt offended, failed to deflect the widespread criticism. 

"For me, the player has spoken, and that's the end of it," Real coach Mourinho told reporters, as he refused to answer a number of questions on the matter. 

"If Pepe says publicly that it was intentional and he tells me, it would really annoy me. But he said it wasn't intentional. 

"If some of you think he is a liar, say so. If you doubt him, put it to him." 

Local media had speculated Pepe, who has struggled with a muscle injury recently, would be left out for the Bilbao game at the Bernabeu on Sunday, and for the Cup second leg in Barcelona next Wednesday, while the furore died down. 

"Pepe enters the squad, but we'll see how he (his injury) is," Mourinho added. 

"I have to call up others to cover his position, and if he doesn't make it, someone else will play. If he's fine he will play."