Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: A world-class striker, made in the Bundesliga
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may now ply his trade outside of Germany but it was in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund that the Gabon striker announced himself to the world with a smile on his face and a defender in his pocket.
bundesliga.com looks at how Aubameyang stole our hearts, one Spider-Man mask at a time.
Having hopped between youth academies in France, the country of his birth, Aubameyang joined AC Milan in 2007. But young ‘Auba’ could not shed the nomadic life; being shipped out to Dijon, Lille, Monaco and Saint-Etienne respectively over the course of the next four years before the latter provided a stable, permanent home in 2011.
Then 22, Aubameyang began to thrive, like a DJ given Ibiza residency; full of swagger and making those around him move to his own, unique beat.
“Even though up until then things hadn’t gone that well for him, I saw one thing in the first training session: he was able to beat anyone with the ball at his feet with a run of 60 metres,” said former coach at Saint-Etienne, Christophe Galtier.
Watch: From the archives - Aubameyang makes dream Bundesliga debut
And the 6’1” forward repaid the faith of both Galtier and the club, scoring 35 goals in 75 league appearances and lifting the French League Cup before Dortmund made their move in the summer of 2013.
It was love at first sight.
Having leapt from the bench to lay on Dortmund’s fourth in the 4-2 Supercup win over Bayern Munich, his first competitive game for the club, Aubameyang bagged a stunning hat-trick on his Bundesliga debut two weeks later.
So immediate was Auba’s impact that he scored with his first Bundesliga shot as Dortmund romped past Augsburg 4-0, in what the player later described as “a super start”.
No kidding, and by the end of his maiden Bundesliga campaign, Aubameyang had chalked up 16 goals in all competitions; behind only goalscoring heavyweights Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus in the BVB dressing room.
Having spent the season flitting from wing to wing, either side of Lewandowski, Aubamayeng’s return was an impressive one. And following the Pole’s switch to Bayern, then-coach Jürgen Klopp’s decision to move his searing forward inside proved inspired.
“He's one of the best players for the counterattack that you can find on this planet because of the timing of the runs and the really outstanding finishing record in situations like that,” Klopp would later muse.
“When we scouted him at Saint-Etienne he played more from the wing and he played more for me at Dortmund on the wing as well because for us it was not clear how he could keep the ball up front with his back to the opponent, stuff like that.
“But then he ended up doing that really well as well. He can play both positions, from the wing or as a single striker or together with another striker.”
Aubameyang would not be bettered by a Dortmund teammate again, and clinched the 2016/17 Torjägerkanone courtesy of a remarkable 31 goals in 32 Bundesliga appearances. And until Lewandowski broke the league's single season scoring record last year, it was the highest single-season tally by any non-German striker.
His efforts were crucial in leading Dortmund to DFB Cup glory that year, with decisive Aubameyang goals coming in both the 3-2 semi-final win over Bayern and 2-1 victory against Eintracht Frankfurt in the final.
Watch: From the archives - Every goal from Auba's stunning 2016/17 season
And while Aubameyang delighted the inhabitants of the Yellow Wall, he may have inadvertently hindered his own club by stoking a rivalry that helped fuel Bayern’s dominance that currently stands at 10 consecutive Meisterschalen; a sequence that both precedes and succeeds the 73-time capped Gabon forward’s time in Germany.
“It was nice to rival him to become the best top scorer of the league. I'm sorry he left because this kind of competition is good for both of us,” said Lewandowski. “Now I have to be strong enough mentally to do my job without depending on the competition with somebody else.”
Over four-and-a-half seasons in the black and yellow of Dortmund, Aubameyang ran riot; scoring 98 goals in just 144 games. Now 33, he still holds the record for the most goals by any African player in Bundesliga history.
But, as former BVB sporting director Michael Zorc testified, it wasn’t just the goals that made Aubameyang the talk of the town in Dortmund.
“He's an extravagant, colourful character. It does a town like Dortmund good," said Zorc; a man well-placed to speak of the needs of his hometown, considering the 60-year-old has spent the entirety of his professional career walking the Signal Iduna Park halls.
There is no better evidence of Aubameyang’s character shining in unison with his talent as the goal celebrations; from Spider-Man to Batman and Robin, backflips to elaborate handshakes, Auba was as accomplished celebrating goals as he was scoring them.
And he had something special in store for his Bundesliga centenary.
"I'm closing in on 100 league goals, and I've something in mind for when I get there, but it's a surprise," said Aubameyang before his move to Arsenal denied us of what we can only speculate would have involved production levels akin to the Super Bowl half-time show.
But beyond the cheeky smile, crystal-encrusted cleats and Superhero masks, is a professional with football in his blood and a drive for betterment that has taken Aubameyang to the top of his profession.
Just ask Reus, who once joined his teammate for that famous Batman and Robin celebration: “Auba is someone who works very hard, but he never loses his relaxed mood because of it.”
Watch: From the archives - Auba had a surprise in store for his 100th goal
Even the man himself, who cites his father - also once a professional footballer - as being a major influence on his approach to both work and play.
“I grew up with my father’s mentality: If you want to achieve something, you have to fight for it,” he explained. “I’d be the same if I weren’t a footballer. OK, I wouldn’t buy a Ferrari, but I would dress exactly the same. I would like people to really get to know me. Then they would perhaps see I’m different to the image they have of me. It’s only my look, my car, the rest is who I really am.”
A pioneer, a showman, a polyglot, a goalscorer, and so much more; Aubameyang’s time in the Bundesliga was joyously colourful and never failed to entertain.
Now if only we could see that 100th goal celebration. Maybe one day...
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