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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has blossomed into one of the world's best goalscorers at Borussia Dortmund.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has blossomed into one of the world's best goalscorers at Borussia Dortmund.

From 'the boy with square feet' to Borussia Dortmund icon - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's struggle to the summit of world football


Football was in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's genes, but success in the game into which he had been born was far from guaranteed for the man now worshipped by Borussia Dortmund's passionate disciples.

Dedication, hard work and those little favours from Lady Luck that make up the common thread woven through every successful footballer's life story are also present in Aubameyang's tale to the top.

Still, a career in football might have seemed to be almost inevitable.

Watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's journey to the top

"In the family, we have football in our blood. I was already conditioned by watching my father play," said Aubameyang, who followed his dad, Pierre-François, to matches for Le Havre, Toulouse, Nice and notably Laval, where Pierre-Emerick was born and spent most of his childhood. "I remember at half-time in Le Havre, with my friends we made a ball out of paper and played our own game," Aubameyang explained.

"At five years old, he played football in the house and was the footballer, the commentator and the crowd all at the same time," his father, now a scout for AC Milan, added. "He was a lively child, and got on very well with his three brothers."

Two of his siblings, Willy and Catilina, have also made their way, albeit more modestly, in football, but their fate — scraping a living from the game as journeymen players in the backwaters of Italy, France and Gabon — could have been his own.

His startling pace — Aubameyang himself reckons he can clock an outrageous 10.3 seconds for 100m — would always be a precious asset, but the sort of speed that could embarrass Usain Bolt on a sluggish day was still not enough for PEA to establish himself at the highest level.

The world's fastest footballer vs. the world's fastest man. @Aubameyang7 vs. @UsainBolt
30 meters
Who wins? https://t.co/m7T26zWlSs pic.twitter.com/U09fjOzXTB

— CNN Sport (@cnnsport) November 30, 2016

Though the door was opened for him by his father's contacts at Milan, Aubameyang was never able to taste the delights of la dolce vita. "'The boy with square feet' they called him," revealed Yvan Le Mee, the player's former agent.

While his two brothers did manage to force their way to the fringes of the Rossoneri's first team, Aubameyang was sent to smooth the sharp edges off his uncooperative feet during successive loan spells at Dijon FCO, LOSC Lille and AS Monaco between 2008 and 2011. For all his evident potential, however, the fledgling forward failed to take flight.

Despite a paltry return of two goals in 14 league games in the latter half of the 2010/11 season, Galtier had seen enough to convince him to persevere with his pacy young charge. His faith was rewarded, even if his own words of advice also served to lay the foundations for the player Aubameyang is today.

"When I arrived at Saint-Etienne, Christophe Galtier asked one thing of me: get my shots on target," Aubameyang explained. "He told me to hit the target come what may, because the ball can go in because of a bad bounce, for example. Since that day, I have kept in mind the idea of trying my luck, but getting it on target."

Watch: Five things about Aubameyang

His tally of just four goals in 33 Ligue 1 appearances meant his career was in the balance when, after his scheduled season-long spell at Monaco was brutally cut in half with coach Laurent Banide preferring Chu-Young Park up front, Aubameyang returned to Italy in late 2010.

That could have been the death knell of a career that had barely got off the ground, but this was where Lady Luck stepped in, and married Saint-Etienne's future with that of the directionless striker. It was from here Aubameyang never looked back, though if he had, he would only have seen a succession of panting defenders trailing in his wake.

"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," Saint-Étienne boss Christophe Galtier, who chiselled Aubameyang's technique into shape without blunting his instincts, told bundesliga.com.

Galtier's simple recipe was greedily followed by his young striker, then just 22, and served up a feast of goals. 'Auba' gorged on 16 in 36 league games during the 2011/12 campaign, midway through which Saint-Etienne made his loan move permanent, six months ahead of schedule. Nineteen strikes in 37 Ligue 1 outings the following season left him second only to Paris Saint-Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the French top-flight's chart of prime predators.

For all his use of a Spider-Man mask — in homage to former Saint-Etienne team-mate Jeremie Janot — or a Batman disguise to celebrate a goal, the transformation owed nothing to the realms of comic-book fantasy. The key? Raw talent embellished by unadulterated, indispensable hard work.

Watch: Bayern Munich get caught in Spiderman's web

"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 in front of goal," said Galtier, whose plan never came to fruition as Dortmund swooped in summer 2013.

"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. 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."

That application and dedication to his profession has remained unflinching in a yellow-and-black shirt. A hat-trick against Augsburg on his Bundesliga debut, making him only the sixth player to achieve the feat, helped his acclimatisation to his new environment, while the flow of goals has been almost as sparkling as the €2,500 crystal-encrusted boots he once wore in a warm-up before a Ligue 1 game.

"I encourage him, because it's his trademark and every striker needs to cultivate his image," Aubameyang's former Saint-Étienne team-mate and current Wolfsburg midfielder Josuha Guilavogui said. "He has a rhinestone and sequins side to him, very bling-bling when you look no further than the outside. But he's very generous, he really is big-hearted."

Watch: Aubameyang's Bundesliga debut hat-trick

So the goals and willingness to roll his sleeves up go hand-in-hand with the luxury cars — one of which he painted green during his time at Saint-Etienne — and the outlandish fashions. They are also united with the trademark smile that is as wide as the 'Yellow Wall' and never far from the face of the Gabon international, who adores all the trappings of a prima donna without being one.

"I have always dreamed of being famous, so I make the most of it," Aubameyang explained. "I'm often asked if it's annoying to do so many photos and sign so many autographs. No, it's not. I've always dreamed of that, so I'm not going to grumble! I put myself in the shoes of the other people. When I was little, I would have loved to have taken a photo with a star. So, today, I don't count."

That generous streak extends to his play, score and help score motto. "I'm very happy to be his coach," said Thomas Tuchel during the 2015/16 season in which the BVB boss lost his bet with Aubameyang that the striker would not score 20 league goals — he ended with 25. "When you see how he set up both our goals in a 2-0 win in Mainz and how he celebrated, even though it was Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan who scored, it warms my heart."

Watch: Aubameyang's top 10 Dortmund goals

But for all the hype, the superstardom and acclaim, Aubameyang, who has now captained both his club and his country, is still happy to steal away from the limelight, heading back to his unassuming, unremarkable hometown of Laval, cosseted between Normandy and Brittany, where his mother, who is of Spanish origin, and many of his relatives still live in the peace of the French countryside.

"I feel at home, far from the noise in Dortmund. Once, I decided to spend my holidays somewhere other than Laval. I cracked. Impossible!" said the 27-year-old, who plays football with friends and goes bowling on the four or five times a year he visits. "Each time I leave Laval and its healthy environment, I really feel good, my body is rested. I go back to Dortmund full of energy."

And it shows. Aubameyang is a permanent fixture at the top of the Bundesliga scoring charts these days - he finished top of the charts on 31 goals in 2016/17 - and even surpassed the 75-goal mark quicker than former BVB teammate Robert Lewandowski - in a club-record 117 matches to be precise. Not bad for the 'boy with square feet'.

Watch: Aubameyang's top ten goals in 2016/17

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