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Arsenal did not overpay for Nicolas Pepe, says Lille president Gerard Lopez

In a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports News, Lille's president discusses the club's interest in Alfredo Morelos, new signing Jonathan David, Gabriel Magalhaes' imminent departure, and two Ligue 1 sides progressing to the Champions League semi-finals

Nicolas Pepe's £72m move in 2019 was not a reason for Raul Sanllehi leaving Arsenal
Image: Nicolas Pepe's £72m move in 2019 was not a reason for Raul Sanllehi leaving Arsenal, according to Lopez

Lille's president Gerard Lopez has told Sky Sports News he does not think that Nicolas Pepe's £72m move to Arsenal was to blame for head of football Raul Sanllehi leaving the club.

Sanllehi departed over the weekend after two-and-a-half years at the Emirates Stadium, and has been replaced by former managing director Vinai Venkatesham, with technical director Edu and head coach Mikel Arteta now heading up their footballing and recruitment direction.

Amid an ongoing overhaul of their recruitment operations, Arsenal have denied reports that an internal investigation has also been launched into why the north London club spent so much on winger Pepe from Lille in last year's summer transfer window.

Raul Sanllehi joined as head of football operations in 2017
Image: Raul Sanllehi joined Arsenal as head of football operations in 2017

When asked about whether he thought Pepe's transfer had anything to do with Sanllehi's departure from the club, Lopez told Sky Sports News: "I think it is made up stuff.

"I know for a fact he has an excellent relationship with the club and they left on excellent terms.

"There are always going to be stories that try to be interesting, Arsenal are going through a restructuring which is part of what happens. He is a great guy, it is a great club and as far as I can see they both [Arsenal and Sanllehi] respect each other immensely.

"They have a player [Pepe] where people forget his age, and the fact he took one season to click within our system and then became the player which we all know.

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"He has had a good second half of the season at Arsenal and he is one of the rare players who can make something happen from nothing.

"The more comfortable he gets at the club, the more he will make things happen so I think the best is yet to come."

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard greets Alfredo Morelos
Image: Rangers manager Steven Gerrard admits Alfredo Morelos' head "has been turned" by recent transfer speculation

Lille have now signed Jonathan David - who scored 18 goals in the Belgian top flight last year and was attracting interest from Arsenal and Manchester United - for £27m from Gent.

The move has likely spelled an end to their pursuit of Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos, with the club having cooled their interest in the Colombia international after agreeing personal terms with him over a move to Ligue 1 last month.

With forward Jonathan David having now joined Lille from Genk, does this mean that the club's pursuit of Alfredo Morelos is now over?

Lopez explained: "We know we have a lot of offensive players, are we going to get an additional one between now and the end of the transfer season? I don't know if we will.

"But at this stage we are trying to see how to get everything together. I know we have a preferred system that we like to play, and within that there is a number of discussions.

"We are no longer in a rush to do something, we have bought our main target, and now we need to look at how to build with the offensive players that we have."

You beat off stiff competition to sign Jonathan David, why did he choose Lille over other top European sides?

"A lot of people take a shortcut and say 'you know you go to Lille because you are going to go somewhere big afterwards'.

"We have talent surrounding talent. A player like Jonathan and others that have preceded him, when they come to LOSC, they know there are bigger clubs than LOSC.

Jonathan David
Image: Jonathan David was a target for Arsenal and Manchester United before signing for Lille

"But we aim to be 'the best of the rest' after Bayern Munich and Barcelona and all these teams and we can definitely do this over the next three to four years.

"Yes, we offer maybe a stepping stone, but also masses of talent, European football and exciting football.

"I know there were bids considerably higher than ours. He is quick, lethal in front of goal and he insisted on coming to us which was very favourable."

What is the state of play regarding Gabriel Magalhaes' likely departure from Lille, we understand there has been three clubs in talks to sign him?

"Yeah that would be about right. There have been two other clubs who have shown up over the past few weeks who were a bit late to the party to be honest.

"He is a great kid and that is one of the most important things. He didn't have an easy start with us given the fact that the coach at the time didn't trust him because of his age."

Sky Sports News has reported that Everton and Napoli are keen on signing the highly-rated 22-year-old, while an unnamed Premier League club has made a bid in excess of £22m for the centre-back.

Gabriel has attracted interest from a host of European clubs this summer
Image: Brazilian defender Gabriel has attracted interest from a host of European clubs this summer

Lopez added: "He is a real fighter and has immense physical presence but knows how to use it smartly. He is still raw and I know the Brazil national team are looking at him very seriously for the A-team. I think he is at the start of something big and he does everything to succeed."

"He is one of the players that we allowed to exit the club this summer, he asked for it and wants to try something else.

"We clearly told him what our expectations were, we spoke to a number of clubs, our expectations were met by a number of clubs and we have given him the time to decide.

"It is going to be entirely his decision. We tend to try and steer our players in certain directions, but at the end of the day it's the player's decision. I know he is going to make a decision early next week.

"He is a super guy and a great football player and he wants to play, there has been a lot of interest but we have clearly decided to close the door to further clubs at this stage and let him choose."

Moussa Dembele celebrates scoring for Lyon as Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson looks on
Image: Moussa Dembele celebrates scoring for Lyon in their 3-1 quarter-final win over Manchester City as the Ligue 1 side booked their place in the Champions League semi-finals

Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon have progressed to the semi-finals of the Champions League, what does that say about the current strength of Ligue 1 compared to other European leagues?

"I've always said that it is very strong. Once you win it becomes easier to win again, Spain was always the loser [at international level] and then suddenly they win three tournaments in a row.

"France suffers a bit from the same syndrome. It is a very talented and physical league, it does not have the revenue for clubs to buy top, top players but clubs develop talent.

"We know it is a very talented league, this year through PSG and Lyon we might be getting that extra notice from people."

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