Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may lead the Bundesliga scoring charts, but the Borussia Dortmund striker is a goal poacher made, not born, his former coach at AS Saint-Etienne has told bundesliga.com.
With 17 goals from 14 games, including a record streak of finding the net on eight successive Matchdays from the start of the season, the sight of Aubameyang's signature somersault celebration is seemingly as inevitable a part of the weekly Bundesliga experience as currywurst and beer.
Yet, the prolific, jet-heeled spectre of world-class central defenders' nightmares was not always the root cause of cold sweats and sleepless nights for opponents.
Aubameyang arrived at Saint-Etienne in January 2011 bearing the promise of an AC Milan youth academy pedigree and the burden of unsuccessful loan spells at Dijon, LOSC Lille and AS Monaco FC. A total of 33 Ligue 1 games had brought an underwhelming four goals, a pitifully paltry tally for a forward whose searing pace made him – potentially – a formidable asset as Saint-Etienne boss Christophe Galtier immediately recognised.
"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 Galtier, who saw Aubameyang find the net just twice in 14 league games after joining Les Verts.
"I had a good first impression, but he didn't play that much for the first six months, he scored just two goals. That summer, we had to decide whether or not we would take him on loan again, how much he would cost for a transfer…We didn't know whether we could count on him, he hadn't played a lot.
"We didn't know whether he would make the necessary steps to become a first-team regular. At the time, his agent and his dad found the arguments with the president to say, 'You have to give him another chance' over a whole year, and not just six months, so that he could work with the squad. It was then that he was a different player from the very first friendly, a completely different player."
Second only to Zlatan
Aubameyang's statistics added tangible proof of the transformation Galtier had witnessed. Sixteen goals in 36 top-flight appearances followed in 2011/12 before he added three more to that tally in just a single extra game the next campaign, finishing second only to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Ligue 1 goalscoring stakes.
The drastic improvement was not merely down to the confidence born of the security blanket of trust and faith Galtier and his staff had thrown around their star striker. In keeping with Saint-Etienne, an unremarkable town founded on the mining industry where flamboyance is frowned upon and rolling one's sleeves up the norm, Aubameyang belied the glitz and glamour of his off-the-pitch appearance to hone his now potent finishing skills in the mud - and often snow - of the Ligue 1 side's training ground.
"If I had had him another season, he would have played as a central striker, because he had found something that he hadn't had before: a lot of sang froid (coolness or calmness) in front of goal. He didn't have that when he arrived to us, and it came through hard work. He asked for training sessions to help himself with that," Galtier explained. "His greatest quality is humility. He has a lot of humility, respect, and he has something else: when he hasn't done something right in a match, he asked to do it again in training, to change how he had done it, and do it right."
While re-painting his red Ferrari to match Saint-Etienne's colours won over Les Verts' passionate following, his performances were making a wealth of clubs, including Dortmund, green with envy. The Bundesliga outfit eventually won the race to sign the Gabon international, whose career move met with the approval of his former boss.
"I was afraid that he might be tempted to go to a smaller club than Dortmund. When I knew it was Dortmund, with Jürgen Klopp, I felt he deserved to be at a club like that, that he was going to improve further. He always dreamt of playing in the Champions League, and he was going to a club that would allow him to do that. I knew that with the two seasons he had had, he wasn't going to stay with us," Galtier explained.
"I wasn't disappointed. I had a little feeling of pride, because we helped him, but he did most of the work. There was a little bit of sadness, because he lights up the dressing room throughout the year. He has a real joie de vivre."
'He'll go even further'
Although Aubameyang's trademark smile has never been far from his face since crossing the border into Germany, his goals have kept Dortmund's fans happy, too. Thirteen came in his maiden season, 16 last year. With his current league-leading tally already ahead of that total, the grins of both Aubameyang and those who worship him from the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK stands are only going to grow wider still, according to Galtier.
"He has improved having been alongside a great coach and great players," the former Olympique de Marseille, Portsmouth FC and Olympique Lyonnais assistant coach said, ever attentive to the progress of his former charge.
"The fact he's played Champions League matches has helped him improve, but he always wants to get better. I'm not surprised. He won't stop now, he'll go even further, because he is ambitious, and he gives himself all the means to achieve those ambitions. He has something else too: he's a real athlete. He's capable of playing 50 games a season, and he has everything in his life to be able to play a lot of games and always at the top of his game. He's a real professional."
Christophe Galtier was speaking to bundesliga.com's Ian Holyman.