April 28th 2015, the semi-final of the DfB Pokal between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. The hopes of millions hang in the balance. 75 minutes played, Bayern are a goal up and quite clearly the better team on the night but Dortmund were growing in confidence. Henrik Mkhitaryan’s delivery met by a skidding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang levelled the game up for the visitors. Dortmund went on to win on penalties. Result? Euphoria. Aubameyang? Saviour. Like he proved to be for much of last season.
Saviour would have been the last word that would have come to mind upon his signing back in 2013. After coming off a heart breaking loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League final and the announcement of Robert Lewandowski’s inevitable departure looming, it was time for the Dortmund board to sign someone who could fill the Pole’s devastatingly lethal shoes.
After quick negotiations with Saint Etienne and minimal fanfare or media attention, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signed with BvB for 13 million euros. The then 24-year-old Gabonese international was relatively unknown, but his blistering pace and his 36 goals and assist tally for the previous season stood out.
But after a few months in Dortmund, Aubameyang’s shortcomings were also apparent. His hold up play, a crucial attribute for a striker under Jurgen Klopp, was nowhere near the standard of Robert Lewandowski, admittedly a very high standard. Aubameyang’s passing, decision-making and finishing were all over the place that first season in Germany. Here was a man that looked too one-dimensional, along with being a poor finisher. His genetics constantly making up for his footballing inaptitude.
To be fair, Aubameyang did notch 16 goals in 48 games in his debut season, and after all playing in Germany usually requires a period of adaptation. But the fact that he played only a mere five games as the Klopp’s centre-forward confirmed that even the coaching staff knew Aubameyang wasn’t up to the task of leading the line. Yet.
The concept of hard work
The differences between players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Adriano (Leite Ribeiro) can seem obvious. One is a multiple Balon D’or winner with more records than the other has goals. But what are unseen are the countless hours of work that Ronaldo put in with an unwavering desire to be the best regardless of how much talent he was bestowed,in contrast to the reports that Adriano spent his nights drinking and partying in shady nightclubs. The point is simple. Hard work is underrated. Aubameyang, fortunately, was aware of his weaknesses and rather than trying to conceal them, he worked on them, constantly, drill after drill, hour after hour.
One reaps what one sows. And the Dortmund star is reaping his rewards now. The following season, Aubameyang started to look much better on the ball. His runs more purposeful. his positioning more intelligent, and he evolved into a real threat in front of goal. Even with the arrivals of Serie-A top scorer Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos from Hertha Berlin, it was evident from day one that only Auba would be leading the line.
Although he would have hoped that Dortmund’s 2014-2015 season would go little bit differently, Aubameyang used his opportunities to announce himself on the world stage. He ended up the third highest scorer of the 2015 calendar year (behind a certain Messi and Ronaldo). Fast forward to 2016 and few will be surprised to learn that he is on pace to match Gerd Muller’s record of 40 goals in a Bundesliga campaign with 18 of his own in the Hinrunde. Although Aubameyang probably won’t reach those astronomic figures this season (seriously though, who could? Leave your best guess below), it won’t take away the fact that he has come a long way from being called one-dimensional and sloppy.
Thomas Tuchel has brought in a new tactical approach to the way the team plays football. With the team exhibiting more possession and a re-focused mind-set, Aubameyang has been allowed to blossom. It is quite refreshing to see him dribbling past people with confidence and authority while adding a few wonder goals to his personal highlight reel. And the Gabonese international has also benefitted from the sheer amount of chances that the KMR (Shinji Kagawa, Henrik Mkhitaryan, and Marco Reus) create. 227 chances have been created thus far by the trio thus far this season. That quantity of chances, plus the new-look Aubameyang, equals very tangible success for both player and club.
It is, of course, difficult to predict the 26 year-old’s potential — or if he even has reached his goal scoring ceiling. At his best Aubameyang is a complete forward. He is great in the air, is a terrific runner between the lines, an extremely hard worker upfront, both closing down defenders and causing turnovers high up the pitch. He is also an absolute predator in the box.
No wonder every club in Europe wants his signature. The future looks very bright for the French-born forward but is that in Germany or elsewhere no one, not even perhaps he, knows. Aubameyang has expressed his wish to one day play in La Liga, but he could also be tempted by the riches of English football. Thus while it remains to be seen how his career will pan out, if we have learned anything about Auba, is that he will be quietly working, training himself even harder, just to improve that much more.
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