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Austin Nyquist writes, and demonstrates in detail just what makes Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang one of Europe’s most lethal forwards.
“Before I arrived here, a lot of people were questioning about whether I could ever play as a striker, that I was a guy who could only run down the wing quickly.”
– Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Inzaghi, Van Basten, Shevchenko, Kaka, Weah, Ibrahimovic. What do these players have in common? Well, they are widely regarded as some of the best and most famous strikers to ever grace the San Siro and don the red and black stripes of AC Milan, a club steeped with a rich history of trophies and superstars. Now what’s unknown to many outside the club itself is a name that has recently become synonymous with goals and big money transfers and one that was once on the books of that club for almost 4 years. That is the name of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. The fact that he never played for the first team and went on loan to 4 different French teams prior to being sold for peanuts is a fact I am sure haunts the hierarchy today as they yearn for the production of finishers of years gone by. Well that is the reality and this is the present and the Gabonese international is now coveted by the world’s elite with each and every major club willing to open up their checkbooks in order to sign the man. It is that journey from there to here that intrigues all of us. From heralded prospect to the finished article, we take a look at what makes Auba the deadly assassin that he is today.
Of the top drawer strikers in the game today few put in the defensive work rate on a consistent basis that Aubameyang does. Perhaps Luis Suarez of Barcelona and Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal are some comparable exceptions. Now, many may say that this by nature is system and coach dependent, which is true to a certain extent; however, few strikers contribute to the overall defensive structure and execution as Auba does. He is a menace to the opposition back line and is constantly looking to harass and force mistakes. He terrorizes goalkeepers across the league by sheer determination and will power. With that being said, the easy conclusion is for one to think that his contribution is merely effort based. That could not be farther from the truth because the pressing structure and demands placed on Dortmund players from both Klopp and Tuchel require extreme intelligence, synchronization of movement, unrelenting energy, and precise timing. By no means is the defensive work a solo activity or an individual event. Aubameyang is just as vital to the system as the system is dependent on him to execute the requirements needed to win the ball back. Below is just one example of his role in the overall defensive set up.
To have a forward willing and able to put in the effort and performance on the defensive side of the ball is an absolute luxury many teams simply do not have. However, when it comes to speaking of goal scorers the simple question remains first and foremost…Do they score goals? At the end of the day this is their main function and why in many respects strikers make 100s of thousands of dollars a week. Putting the ball in the back of the net with frequency is surely an art form that few master and even fewer sustain. And it is in this convergence of utility, and effort, and intelligence, and end product that Pierre-Emerick-Aubameyang differentiates himself from so many of the #9s in world football. Over the last three seasons the Dortmund forward has continued to improve his game. He has gone from 16 goals in the 2014/2015 season to 25 league goals in the 2015/2016 season to his current form of 17 goals in 17 appearances so far in the 2016/2017 season at the time of writing. Additionally this campaign, he has 4 goals in 5 Champions League games. What’s even more impressive is the fact that his contribution makes up 44% of Dortmund’s total goals, which ranks first in the league. Additionally, like any well-rounded and truly valuable player, he can perform and execute his role in a multitude of ways with an array of decisive skills.
Now to say that Pierre-Emerick-Aubameyang is an out and out poacher is a complete disservice to the man and his unbelievable ability. However, in the mold of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, he simply seems to always be in the right place at the right time. Some might say this is the fundamental component of a world class striker. The ball is somehow magnetically attracted to them whenever the goal is in sight. A true Penalty Box Striker as they say! For Auba over the last two seasons, 42 of his goals have come within the penalty box. That’s 42 out of 42…100%. What’s more, 14 of those goals have come within the six yard box. It would seem that from that sort of range any man off the street could finish at a consistent and prodigious rate, but the true skill comes in the perfection of movement, timing, and execution, with a little bit of luck no doubt. Below are just a few examples of his influential nature in and around the goal mouth.
It’s not everyday that someone can legitimately challenge the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt and not look ridiculous; however that is exactly what Aubameyang did and for valid reasons. Upon his arrival at Dortmund Pierre clocked a 3.7 second time over a 30 meter run, which was .08 of a second faster than Bolt ran during his previous world record sprint. Whether there is credence our validity to these times is not something that is worth the time or breath. Suffice it to say that when you can speak of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang in the same sentence as the fastest man ever, then he must be pretty fast himself. Now track speed and football speed are two very different skill sets. Add in 21 other players and a moving ball and the proficiencies required are exponentially greatly. With Auba it is not just his pace alone but his ability to find balance and display strength while moving at top speeds both with and without the ball. This particular attribute has allowed the Dortmund team to thrive on the counter attack as the vertical pass is always a dangerous option the opponent has to be wary of in each and every game.
Deception, guile, elusive, crafty; all words you might say can and most likely are used when in discussion of a prototypical center forward. Also, they are all words that somewhat by nature indicate movement. This is a craft that #9s hone for their entire careers. Inzaghi was great at walking the offside tightrope, Ronaldo excels at running behind, Messi thrives at dropping the shoulder to off balance a defender, Drogba used his body better than anybody, the list goes on. If goals are how strikers make their money then their requisite movement opens the wallet. There are countless nuances and subtleties and each player, like a master artist, paints with an incomparable stroke. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has quite the arsenal at his disposal and he can be seen using it all to his majestic advantage.
In the opening quote Pierre laments that there were doubts over his ability to function in more than just an athletic wide role. Over the last 5 years Auba’s game has continued to polish itself and evolve into a more well rounded set of attributes. He continues to improve his goals per game output and has become more than just a runner. His combination play, his hold up play, his distribution and crossing have all improved with his time at Dortmund. At times the coach and the team do make the players and the striker is certainly benefiting from excellent coaching and fantastic teammates. Moreover, he is allowed to flourish in the avenue of where he is most confident and productive, that of center forward. With the horizon looking so bright for this player and the skill set he possesses, it will come as no shock if we very soon see the Gabonese striker wearing the all white of Madrid or any club he so chooses for that matter. The journey to relevance for a striker is often one fraught with turbulence and stop starts. What’s more the path to dominance and entrance into the exclusive world class category is often just as long and perilous, fading before it even truly sets in. For Pierre Emerick Aubameyang now is that time and this is his moment to breach that hurdle. We are all eagerly watching!
“We cannot achieve our goals without Auba. He improves everyone around him. Everybody who plays alongside him knows that he can make the difference from out of nowhere.”
– Thomas Tuchel
Statistical information sourced from WhoScored.com