Ricardo Pepi's war of words with Augsburg shows he's backing himself for another big transfer this summer

Ricardo Pepi 2022-23
The USMNT striker could make a big move this summer after a very public falling out with Bundesliga side Augsburg.

Ricardo Pepi looks set to bet on himself this summer.

It wouldn't be the first time he's done that, looking back. It was just last year that the young forward wagered that he was ready for a leap to the Bundesliga and a move to one of the division's worst teams - one desperate for a new star.

Both he, and Augsburg, lost that bet.

It was, in a word, catastrophic. Pepi never got going in Germany, effectively costing himself a World Cup spot, and Augsburg were stuck with a €18 million (£15m/$20m) signing they had no clue what to do with. Both sides swung big, both sides missed.

Now, less than a year later, they find themselves on opposing sides of another crossroad. On one side, Pepi, whose spell in the Netherlands has him feeling ready for a new challenge; on the other, Augsburg, who feel they've been disrespected and have no desire to let him leave.

What happens next will set the tone for the rest of Pepi's career. He's still just 20, but this move, this next big move, will likely be the difference between success or failure at Europe's top levels.

And Pepi is ready to push all of his chips into the middle of the table yet again, but will Augsburg be willing to let it happen? We'll find out.

  1. Pepi's initial wager

    Pepi's initial wager

    After lighting up MLS, Pepi found himself emerging as the U.S. men's national team's new star. He was the striker of the future, headed to the World Cup where he'd lead the line in Qatar.

    And of course, as he grew into that role, European clubs came calling. It became a matter of when, not if, Pepi would make the leap across the Atlantic to join a club that would give him the chance to make the leap in his own career.

    He inevitably settled on Augsburg, a club struggling in the Bundesliga and desperately in need of goals. They put down big money to sign Pepi, thinking they'd landed the striker of the present and future who would lead them to better things.

    It didn't happen.

    Pepi failed to scored across 16 appearances and, although the club narrowly survived relegation, it was clear that this partnership wasn't working out.

  2. A lifeline in the Netherlands

    A lifeline in the Netherlands

    In September, Augsburg announced that Pepi would spend the 2022-23 season on loan with Groningen. For the German side, it was a chance to give Pepi a change of scenery that would, maybe, restore some of his depleted value. For Pepi, it was a step back down the ladder that would allow him to play in a league that could be more his pace.

    There were initial concerns. Groningen, like Augsburg, aren't the strongest side in their league. They aren't a club that is dominating possession, creating chances and scoring goals, finding themselves in the lower echelons of the Eredivisie. Would this just be a repeat for Pepi, who was so often starved of service in Augsburg?

    As it would turn out, it isn't. Pepi has scored 10 goals in the Eredivisie this season, tied for seventh-most in the league. Everyone else in double digits plays for the league's top eight teams. Pepi and Groningen, meanwhile, sit second-bottom in 17th.

    Groningen may very well get relegated this season, but its no fault of Pepi's, as the striker has been one of the squad's only bright spots. He's been involved in 13 of the team's 27 total goals, too. If the club survives, it'll be thanks to him.

    Pepi is scoring goals again, for both club and country, having made his USMNT return in March. And that brings us to everyone's favorite question, especially for players on loan: what next?

  3. A war of words over his next move
    Getty Images

    A war of words over his next move

    Pepi and his agent say they know what's next: there's no way in hell the striker is going back to Augsburg.

    Speaking to Voetbal International recently, the two said that the intention is to go elsewhere, citing disrespect and broken promises from the German club.

    "For me it is clear: I do not want to go back to Augsburg. I have already let the club know that," Pepi said. "I have been promised and promised things that have not been fulfilled. Then it is simple: then you have to look for another club."

    His agent Jaime Garcia added: "We appreciate the investment the club has made, but once he came in, it seemed they didn't know how to handle such an investment. The manager didn't speak to him, the director wanted him so badly that he twice did not show up for an appointment with Ricardo that he had scheduled himself.

    "The coach talks about him at a press conference, but does not respond to a message Ricardo sent him for four days. Is that respectful? But maybe he knew that Ricardo wanted to tell him that he doesn't want to return to Augsburg. And then an 18-year-old boy from Texas is criticized for not showing anything in the average 28 minutes of playing time. Tell me: what can you show in such a short period of time?"

    The club, meanwhile, is unconvinced by Pepi's latest comments, with sporting director Stefan Reuter pushing back in a recent interview.

    "Ricardo has a long-term contract with us. With his qualities, he fits in very well with our style of play. The coach also thinks highly of him. Of course I understand what his agent has said,” Reuter told Sky Germany. "But the facts are clear and there have been no inquiries, let alone offers, for him so far. So a sale is not an issue for us at the moment. As always, we would consider concrete and adequate offers. But we will discuss that directly with him and the agent, not through the public."

  4. Where next for Pepi?
    Getty Images

    Where next for Pepi?

    Should he move on from Augsburg, it appears he'll have no shortage of suitors.

    Pepi has been linked with the Premier League, with differing reports as to whether or not the striker himself wants the switch. It would represent another big bet from Pepi, who could quickly find himself in a situation similar to what he experienced at Augsburg if he doesn't hit the ground running.

    Notably, though, he's been linked to two Dutch giants - PSV and Feyenoord. A shift up the Eredivisie ladder makes significant sense for a player of Pepi's age. With either club, Pepi would be making a big jump to a big club, with Feyenoord currently leading the league and PSV in second. He'd be playing with a much better team with much better players, and getting European experience. As a striker, what else could you want?

    Starring in the Europa League or Champions League is a quick way for a player to put himself on the radar of the real giants, and both Feyenoord and PSV have sent plenty of players to those big-hitters in the past.

    It is the decision Pepi will face this summer: whether to take a small step or a giant leap. That all depends, though, on whether or not Augsburg allow him to make that decision at all.

  5. The USMNT POV


    All of this, of course, also has a side element to it: Pepi's national team career.

    His resurgence at Groningen has brought him right back into the USMNT striker race and, arguably, Pepi may be at the top of the depth chart. There's plenty of competition, with Josh Sargent, Jesus Ferreira, Haji Wright, Daryl Dike, Brandon Vazquez and, perhaps, Folarin Balogun all in the mix, but Pepi is right there too.

    Called into the Nations League squad in March, Pepi scored three goals across two wins over Grenada and El Salvador. Of course, you can't read too much into that given the competition, but it was a welcome return for Pepi with the USMNT.

    What comes next? Either the Nations League semifinals or Gold Cup, depending on how the USMNT wants to divide up the summer. Pepi will surely get another chance in one of those competitions and, after that, much will depend on who is actually coaching the USMNT.

    By the time the USMNT have a new manager, Pepi may also have a new club. At just 20, Pepi could be making his second major move, and this one is perhaps more intriguing than the one that got him here.