French football has been struggling to compete with the top sides for years. While the National team (filled with foreign based players) continues to succeed, the domestic league never really managed to maintain any form of consistency. Lyon promised much, PSG continue to do so. But despite the failure of the Ligue 1 clubs, the league always manages to nurture a top talent every now and again. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the name on everyone’s lips in France.
Before Aubameyang was driving fancy cars & flashing diamond-studded boots, he was struggling to get his football career kicked off. Born in France, the current Gabon international comes from a footballing family. His father, Yaya, was capped over 80 times for Gabon and played much of his domestic football in France. His father is currently employed as a scout with Italian giants AC Milan, and that is where he enrolled his son Pierre-Emerick along with his two older brothers, Catilina & Willy, into the youth academy. Both his brothers struggled in their careers, and continue to do so with a host of loan spells in smaller Italian clubs. For much of Pierre-Emerick’s career, he too seemed to be meeting the same fate as his brothers.
He showed a lot of promise as a youngster with the youth teams in Milan, winning a couple of tournaments & awards. He was also rewarded with a call-up to the French U-21 side while he was still eligible for the Italian team.
As a teenager he was rewarded with a couple of substitute appearances for the senior team. But this was a Milan side fresh from winning their 7th European Cup, with some of the best players in the World. Breaking in wasn’t going to be an easy task.
Milan took the best possible step for Aubameyang and allowed him to return to his country of birth with a loan move to French 2nd division side- Dijon. His form with the Milan youth sides continued at Dijon, as the Gabonese international showed his potential, scoring 10 goals. His exploits in Ligue 2 weren’t enough to warrant a place in Milan’s side. More loan moves beckoned as his frustration continued.
His next two loan moves were at two big French clubs with European experience- Lille & Monaco. However he failed to showcase his true talent, scoring for both clubs a total of 4 goals in nearly 50 games. It was at Lille that he made his European debut, making appearances against Liverpool in the Europa League, home & away. But his time there was largely wasteful, as his early promise was forgotten and Milan coaches were sure to be growing impatient as well.
St. Etienne were the next club that came calling, another loan move from Milan in the January transfer window. This time he took his opportunity and did enough to convince manager Christophe Galtier to take him away from the San Siro permanently. A mere €1.5 million is all it costed, and as the record-books show now, the French club are left rejoicing at their incredible coup.
Despite an inconsistent domestic club career, Aubameyang is an integral part of the Gabon national team and a hero back home. He helped the small African nation reach the 2012 African Cup of Nations. They went as far as the quarters, to the surprise of most viewers. However a penalty shootout with Mali saw them knocked out as Aubameyang failed to covert the decisive spot-kick.
This season, Aubameyang has helped St.Etienne to win their first piece of silverware since winning the 2nd division of France in 2004. Plenty of penalty shoot-out victories featured in St.Etienne’s path to the Coupe de la Ligue, with Aubameyang scoring the winning penalty against PSG in the quarters. He is currently 2nd spot in the Ligue 1 Top Scorers list, behind only Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
As a youngster, Aubameyang played as a winger. It was in fact Galtier at St.Etienne that made Aubameyang comfortable as a striker. It allowed him to develop his game further and grow his dynamism across the front three. He flourished as a striker and had a fantastic first full season as a permanent player at the club, the first permanent first-team spot of his career. He scored 21 goals for both club & country in all competitions as he finally began to show his true potential.
The second season at the club saw the arrival of Brazilian striker, Brandao, which forced Aubameyang into a wider role to incorporate both the attacking threats. His early football education as a winger, compiled with his success as a striker, has allowed him to develop into an overall player and a goal threat from the wider areas. He can be deployed on either side of the the striker, besides the centre forwards role as well. On the right he can play as a more traditional winger, and an inverted one on the left. But in both roles he can be seen cutting inside, naturally moving into the box.
What allows Aubameyang to be a potent attacker in the final third is his pace. His pace allows him to actively make a nuisance of himself against the defenders, most of which in Ligue 1 are too slow and incompetent to defend against him. He’s a player who likes to run on to the ball rather than receive it at his feet. Creative midfielders with clever through balls will work well with the former Milan youth player. His quick pace and energy also make him a threat for counter-attacking situations, as St.Etienne have done so often this season.
He is however, good with his feet and has the ability to get past opponents with quick dribbles and stepovers. He loves to take on defenders. He thrives on one-on-one situations and the lack of defensive ability in most of the full-backs in Ligue 1 makes it furthermore simple for him to work with. Stick too close to him and he’ll turn you with ease. A sudden burst of pace further helps his cause.
He can be clever on the ball with the ability to think outside the box, and prove to be a class ahead of his team-mates. Although this sometimes sees Aubameyang on a different wavelength than his team-mates. His runs and movements are often not seen by his colleagues; misplaced passes and loss of possession results.
When playing as a traditional winger, the most common skill is the ability to cross, something Aubameyang lacks. He can move in and continue to be a goal threat, but what prevents him from being a top winger is this lack of ability to float crosses in. Good goal-scoring opportunities are often missed, that leaves his team-mates frustrated.
To be a solid winger, tracking back in a defensive phase and assisting the full-back on your side is vital. This feature is lacking from Aubameyang’s game as without possession, he grows lethargic, almost disinterested in the defending. This can have a poor impact on the rest of the team as the balance, which is crucial for the success of any side, is lost.
He has a 65% shot accuracy and 20 goals to his name at the time of writing. That is a decent stat but Aubameyang is awfully inconsistent with his finishing. It can frustrate both management and players. This was seen in the recent game against Lyon, the striker had 2-3 good chances to finish the opposition off and earn a vital victory. Not only did he fail to score, but the shots attempted were tame efforts nowhere near the goal and posing no threat to the opposition.
His decision-making in certain situations lets his team-mates down as well, while he can tend to be selfish in his play. Those two factors compounded together make’s for an annoying team-mate, who puts his superior quality ahead of his teams.
An interesting statistic this season, at the time of writing there are 5 games to go but so far this campaign, St.Etienne haven’t lost a game in which Aubameyang has scored. He has won nearly 80% of his tackles, but despite being 6’1″, has failed to adequately deal with aerial duels.
Rumours were that Aubameyang was going to be a part of Pardew’s French recruits in January. That move apparently broke down. Interest from St. James Park remains while the two North London clubs are also interested. Latest reports suggest Aubameyang could be Suarez’ replacement, if he were to leave, at Liverpool. The most incredible link so far is the one the Italian press are talking about- a move back to Milan, this time joining the blue side of the San Siro.
The rumour-mills are going to be exploding with Aubameyang rumours this summer. The player has to make the right choice for his career. St.Etienne have a decent chance of qualifying for the Champions League, the holy grail for all footballers in Europe. Aubameyang has struggled early in his career, but has now finally found a stable position at a decent club. He is sure to be apprehensive before accepting a move. One more season with the club in Ligue 1, helping them to continue their climb could do him the World of good.
UPDATE: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has joined Dortmund.
Statistics via Squawka.com. Featured image via madeinsaint-etienne.com