by Massimo Franchi

He is the big surprise of the latest Golden Boy Index published yesterday. A ranking in which he forcefully entered with a devastating impact, just like the one inherent in his nickname: “El Toro.” The twenty-year-old American striker, Ricardo Daniel Pepi, newly acquired by PSV Eindhoven, lands in the Tuttosport’s Football Benchmark ranking immediately at the 46th position, twenty places ahead of the Juventus player Iling-Junior. The Dutch club, who finished second in the last Eredivisie behind champions Feyenoord (with Ajax in third), paid 9 million euros a couple of weeks ago to the German team Augsburg, who held his contract. This amount is slightly less than what Juventus spent to sign Timothy Weah – Pepi’s compatriot – from Lille.

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It should be noted that “El Toro” (like Inter’s Lautaro Martínez, current World Cup champion National Team Coach Lionel Scaloni, and former Napoli player Hugo Campagnaro: all Argentineans) played last season on loan at Groningen, and it was there, in the Netherlands, that he caught the attention of his future buyers. The “love affair” began precisely on October 23, 2022, when the Philips-owned team was defeated 4-2 at the Euroborg Stadium in Groningen. Who opened the scoring for the green-and-white team after 39 minutes of play? Pepi, of course. A loss that hurt the then-coach Ruud Van Nistelrooij, replaced last month by the experienced Peter Bosz (former Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, and Lyon coach). The new coach fully supported the choice made by the white-and-red operational triad formed by president Van de Wallen, CEO Marcel Brands, and sporting director Earnest “Earnie” Stewart.


His debut season in the Dutch league was more than decent, with 12 goals and three assists in 29 appearances (28 as a starter), along with one goal in two Dutch Cup matches. Given his age, his room for improvement is considerable. PSV, with whom he signed a five-year contract, has high hopes for him and believes they have found the “ad hoc” center-forward on whom to build a title-winning team. Standing at 1 meter 85 and weighing 74 kilograms, he is quick, fast, aggressive, fearless, and has a keen eye for goal. He is a modern “puntero” (forward) whose playing style is a mix between the Ivorian-French Sébastien Haller of Borussia Dortmund and the former Juventus player Álvaro Morata. Just a week ago, he scored a goal in his debut for PSV in a friendly match against Blau-Weiss in Linz, Austria, a team newly promoted to the top Austrian league. Pepi scored the winning goal, sealing a 2-1 victory.


“El Toro” was born in El Paso, Texas, in the United States, but his parents are Mexicans from Ciudad Juárez. It is the same city, separated only by the Río Bravo (or Rio Grande, as called in the United States), which marks the border between the two countries. It is as if the Arno separated Florence from a hypothetical “twin” city on the other side of the river, Oltrarno, precisely. But down there, crossing the “Puente Internacional Paso del Norte,” one moves from one nation to another. The bridge is a highly busy place (millions of vehicles and pedestrians cross from Mexico to the USA each year) tightly controlled by “Yankee” soldiers and customs officers, with metal detectors, drug-sniffing dogs, barbed wire, and military checkpoints. As a child, Pepi often crossed that bridge over the river with his father Daniel (a mason), mother Annette (a cleaning woman), his younger brother Diego, and little sister Sophia, to visit relatives living in Montezuma’s land.


Holding dual citizenship, it was not easy for him – a true “Mexico-American” – to choose which national team to play for. At the age of 15, while already playing for the “Toros” in Dallas, he accepted an invitation to join the Mexican Under-16 National Team. However, it was not a memorable experience for him. He didn’t feel comfortable as he had hoped. Despite speaking Spanish fluently, the language of his parents, and despite loving the Latino culture and environment, even though he enjoyed eating “tacos,” “burritos,” and “fajitas” rather than “cheeseburgers” with fries. So, he quickly switched to the US youth teams: Under-16, 17, 23, and eventually the senior national team, where he made his debut, under coach Gregg Berhalter, on September 21, 2021, in the World Cup qualifiers against Honduras in San Pedro Sula. The US won 4-1, and Pepi scored the go-ahead goal, making it 2-1 fifteen minutes before the end.


Dreaming of the Golden Boy, Pepi has already won an individual award in the United States. At the end of 2021, where he scored 3 goals against Los Angeles Galaxy, making him the youngest MLS player to score a hat-trick, he received the “Young Player of the Year” award. So far, he has scored 7 goals in 15 appearances with the USMNT (United States Men’s National Soccer Team), where he plays alongside his friend and fellow Texan McKennie, the newly signed Juventus player Weah Jr., and AC Milan’s Pulisic. However, he was surprisingly left out of the squad for the Qatar World Cup and the last three friendlies of this year. With PSV, he will certainly have the opportunity to prove the national team coach wrong. Let’s not forget that “El Toro” is only twenty years old…