Simone Pepe is an easy guy to like. I'm not talking about pure skill on the field, because there are obviously better players than he is on this current Juventus squad. I'm talking about Simone Pepe the person — the quirky, happy-go-lucky dude who has dolphin tattoos and isn't ashamed about it one bit.
But what Pepe went through last season is nothing that should have been wished upon a player regardless of how you feel about their level of skill or value to a club. There were injuries — a lot of them. Just when you thought he'd be close to rejoining the first-team squad for training, there would be another setback. When the end of February rolled around, Pepe gave up his quest to be fit by season's end, electing for thigh surgery that would keep him out of the lineup for an even longer period of time.
Now, as he is continues to work his way back and re-join the first team for the first time in months, Pepe is raring to go after playing 90 minutes with the primavera — his first time in a legit match since he suffered his initial injury nearly 10 months ago — and scoring a goal and recording an assist in the process.
"I'm happy with how it went. I wanted to play the full 90 minutes and I achieved that aim. Physically I felt very good, even when the game became more stretched. I'd like to thank the manager, Fabio Grosso and all the lads for the opportunity that they've given me."
It remains to be seen whether or not, exactly, Pepe will be able to get back to the same form he had two years ago when he was a solid yet unspectacular performer for Antonio Conte. It's always going to be somewhat of a mystery when a player comes back from such a long time away from the field of play like Pepe did just how good or mediocre they're going to be in the future. And it's especially true when you consider the amount of time it took him to completely shake off all the lingering injuries.
But one thing is for certain: Conte clearly trusts him as much as anybody in the squad. I don't think there's any reason to think otherwise. Conte has a sense that whenever Pepe is in the squad, there is the chance to again be tactically flexible. He's said so himself. And now with Emanuele Giaccherini now hanging out in England, Pepe's role could be an important one off the bench. Who knows, it could end up being a battle of the Simones — Padoin and Pepe — to see who gets more playing time by the time the season comes to and end.
Either way, having Pepe back is a good thing — not just for an option on the bench, but for team morale as well. He's one of the favorites in this squad. His teammates love him and have obviously been a big support group as he continues to near his comeback.
And while we can rag on Pepe for his limited skill set and sometimes inaccurate crosses, it will be nice to have him back in the squad and available to Conte. That's something Il Mister will certainly appreciate — and we should, too.