Ahead of the fast-approaching African Cup of Nations, Ivory Coast coach Jean-Louis Gasset has revealed a master plan to get the best out of former Arsenal winger Nicolas Pépé.
Pépé was a shock inclusion in the Elephants' squad, with the former Arsenal player absent from the team for over a year. His last international game was in a 2-1 loss to Burkina Faso in November 2022.
While announcing his 27-man squad at a press conference, Gasset explained the reasons for the return of the ex-Lille speedster.
“He made the necessary efforts to come back following a knee injury he suffered in Nice. He treated this wound. He made the matches he needed to return to his club in Turkey. There was a little setback for a while but now it's coming back. And I think that – I just mentioned it – the balance of the squad with right-footers means that we needed a creative player on that side. That’s what tipped the scales,” Gasset explained.
Gasset wants to resurrect the Pépé-Bamba duo
But that's not all. Gasset intends to recapture the Pépé-Jonathan Bamba duo that made Lille almost unstoppable during the 2018-2019 season, a campaign they finished runners-up to PSG in Ligue 1. At that time, Pépé finished second in the Ligue 1 scorer's chart with 22 goals, behind Kylian Mbappé. With 13 assists, he was also second in the league.
“I know Nicolas Pépé, I’ve known him for a while. I have an image of him as the one who played in Lille, who was champion of France, who scored goals. With Jonathan Bamba, they both played on the sides, they know each other very well, and I want to believe that over a one-month competition, we can find this duo again,” he continued.
Gasset and Ivory Coast will hope to get the best out of the former Lille duo when the showpiece commences. They begin their AFCON campaign against Guinea-Bissau on January 13, with games against Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea to follow.