Real Madrid centre-half Pepe has cast further doubt on Cristiano Ronaldo's future at the club, saying the club must "make a decision" over whether they will improve and extend the attacker's contract.
Ronaldo's self-publicised "sadness" this season has been widely attributed to his wish for a significant improvement of his current €10.5m annual salary, with recent speculation in the Spanish media claiming he is considering pushing through a move to either Manchester City or Paris St Germain next summer if those super-rich clubs are more willing than Madrid to meet his demands.
Portuguese defender Pepe, speaking at a press conference ahead of Wednesday night's Champions League Group D game between Madrid and City, said that he hopes Ronaldo stayed at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, but suggested that depends on what the club will offer.
"That is an issue for Cristiano, only he, his agent and the club know his future," Pepe said. "For me, as a friend, I hope he stays as long as possible at Madrid, but also Madrid must take a decision, they must extend his contract. There are a lot of things. For me, as a team-mate, I believe it would be good for Cristiano to finish his career in Madrid, but only he or his agent can answer that question."
When pressed on the issue by the next reporter, the €30 million signing from Porto in 2007, who shares an agent (Jorge Mendes) with his international captain, appeared to weigh back on what he had just said.
"No, no I have not said that the club must renew with Cristiano," said Pepe. "The club, Cristiano and everyone should have the intention to continue. Anyway, I have already answered that question and will not do so again."
The defender also said that his bad-boy image - which surfaced again earlier this month when Levante players accused him of mocking them after Madrid had controversially won 2-1 at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia - was unfair.
"In many games, 70% of my challenges end without making a foul," he said. "Every time I make one foul it seems like I have killed someone. I am still paying for one error that I committed (losing control in a game at Getafe and kicking Javi Casquero in 2009). Many times it is not fair. In any case, I am here to defend Madrid's jersey as well as I can."
Back on more comfortable territory Pepe said that bottom of the table City would present a big test for Madrid, but he felt his side were capable of winning the game at Eastlands if they put enough work in.
"City have great players," he said. "We must work for 90 minutes to achieve the victory. We have a huge capacity for sacrifice. We can win the game."