Six months ago, Ricardo Pepi arrived in the Bundesliga as FC Augsburg’s record signing. Now he finds himself loaned out to Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie. What went wrong for the USMNT striker in Germany?
The Bundesliga has long provided a route into Europe for the USA’s most talented youngsters to prove themselves at the highest level. You only have to look at Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Tyler Adams, and Joe Scally from recent seasons for successful examples of US exports.
When highly rated Ricardo Pepi made the €16.36 million move from FC Dallas, the fee was a surprise, but many believed he had the raw talent to deal with it and succeed. Indeed, Liverpool were one of a host of clubs tracking him closely.
Thirteen goals in 31 MLS appearances in the 2020-21 season as well as two assists put the youngster firmly on the radar. The then 18-yearold signed a long-term contract with the Fuggerstädter until 2026 with both parties hugely excited about the link up. “We are delighted that Ricardo has decided to join Augsburg despite interest from a number of top clubs around the world,” said Stefan Reuter. “We were able to provide him with a clear sporting plan for his future development that convinced him to come here.”
“Moving to Europe after the conclusion of the MLS season was my dream” Pepi explained at the time. “I believe Augsburg and the Bundesliga will prove the perfect settings for me to gain match practise at the top level as a youngster.”
The forecast was optimistic, but what was delivered was far from that. Obviously, the burden of the €16 million price tag on such young shoulders was heavy load to carry, but in the 475 minutes of action he saw in the Rückrunde, there was no sign of any involvement in goals- either scoring or assisting.
Speaking back in February, Pepi himself admitted the move to Augsburg had been a risk. “I feel like there’s some pressure. I came to this team for a reason and that’s to develop. Obviously, it was a big transfer but now, being in the team, I feel more comfortable every week that passes by.
“I’m patient but also really, really anxious to score my first goal for sure. It’s a big investment, for sure, but I think, if it were easy, everyone would do it. I’m a young player moving from MLS to this league, so that’s a big step. I feel like I have to be patient with myself, and I have to work every day to become a better player and be able to succeed in this league.
“You have to take risks in life because sometimes you win. When you take the risk, you’re growing as a person. I knew it was going to be a big risk for my playing time and just being comfortable ahead of the World Cup, but I was willing to take the risk and now I’m here and I’m ready to work and do whatever I can to help the team.”
Augsburg however after half a season and one pre-season have seen enough. The summer signing of Ermedin Demirovic and now the added arrival of Mergim Berisha from Fenerbahce means than Pepi has fallen even further down the pecking order. He had seemed a shoo-in for a World Cup spot in the US squad but has now seen Jordan Pefok arrive in the Bundesliga amongst a blaze of goals, and he is slipping out of Gregg Berhalter’s plans.
“I am grateful that the management at FC Augsburg were able to grant my request for a move on short notice. At my age, it is especially important to get as much game time as possible in order to continue to develop. My goal is to take part in the World Cup with my country this winter, which is why it is even more important that I am able to play regularly,” Pepi said about the reasons for the loan. “After my loan spell I want to return to Augsburg and establish myself in the Bundesliga.”
So, what went wrong for Pepi? Too much, too soon? Yes probably. Wrong team, wrong time? Also, yes probably. Has he been given sufficient time to settle and find his form? No probably not. Therefore, a loan at Groningen could provide a less pressurised springboard to make the leap that Pulisic, Reyna, Adams and Scally managed.