COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, at 28, is now entering his prime as a footballer. In 2015, he became the first Gabonese player to be named African Footballer of the Year, breaking the stranglehold of Yaya Toure over the award, and is already in pole position to regain the gong this year. He finished the Bundesliga season with 31 league goals, pipping Robert Lewandowski to the post and sparking a tantrum from the usually cool Pole.
Indeed, he has been the lynchpin of Westphalia since Bayern Munich’s No. 9 moved to Sabener Strasse in 2014, and has matched Lewy stride for stride in the ensuing three seasons, even as Dortmund’s title tilts have varied in fervour and immediacy.
In spite of these, rumours of discontent from Lewandowski’s camp has set all of Europe’s major clubs on high alert in the transfer market. As all jostle for a suitable vantage point should his disillusionment be true, interest in Aubameyang is conspicuous by its (relative) absence.
As a commodity, goals have never been more sought after. Surely, a purveyor of them, proven in a major European league, as well as in the Champions League, would command far greater interest than the Gabon international currently is?
As context, Andrea Belotti has had a breakout season at Torino; and while Alvaro Morata is a forward of considerable talent and potential, he is yet to have a 20-goal league season in his entire senior career so far.
Both have routinely attracted interest from Manchester United this summer, who have been vocal in their search for a starting centre-forward following injury at the back end of last season to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Some outlets even report a deal for the Spain international is done.
At no point has Aubameyang even been mooted, startling in this day and age when wily agents routinely plant transfer stories in the media to drum up interest.
Back in December, the pacy forward scored one and laid on another at the Santiago Bernabeu as Dortmund secured a 2-2 draw which saw them top their Champions League group over the reigning and eventual champions. Having been so decisive, and with a mutual admiration between Real Madrid and the player (who had promised his grandfather he would play for Real Madrid someday), it seemed only a matter of time before Los Blancos made good on their interest.
Karim Benzema was in a poor patch of form, while Cristiano Ronaldo looked ever more like a fading force, yet to hit the stride that saw him dominate the latter stages of the season. The stars were aligning. Yet it never happened.
What did, though, was Kylian Mbappe.
Or no, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We will get to the Monaco youngster, and the toast of world football, soon enough. First, let us look at how the public love-in with Real Madrid may have done more harm than good for Aubameyang himself.
To the player’s credit, even in his ambition, he has not burnt any bridges with Dortmund. Aside his masked goal celebration stunts, which courted a bit of controversy, there is little disagreeable about the soft-spoken 28-year-old. He has not flirted with Bayern Munich, the eternal enemy forever seeking to deplete their rivals, neither has his output and application wavered at any point.
He has simply confessed a desire many professional footballers have: the dream to turn out for Los Galacticos, the 12-time European champions, a club that has ennobled some of the world’s finest footballers in history. In this, there is no shame.
Yet, in Florentino Perez, Real have a president with an eye for the next shiny bauble. However, Aubameyang’s public fluttering of the eyes may have perversely served to make him less desirable. Part of Madrid’s ethos is a willingness to pay princely sums for game-changing talent. For a player who has publicly stated his unwillingness to transfer to any other club but Real, it is impossible to justify a significant outlay.
Indeed, it is in the mien of the much younger Mbappe that the apposite response to news of Madrid’s interest can be found: he has remained aloof and non-committal, welcoming of the attention but giving little away and keeping all his options open. If Madrid are to snag him from Monaco, it would be the end of struggle, from which Perez and Real emerge victorious by superior financial clout. With him, every transfer is an ego trip.
For all his pace, there is no chase for Aubameyang.
So, we have a vicious cycle: the less interest there is in the forward, the less incentive there is for the club of his dreams to desire him.
Aside canny public utterances though, there is also the fact the rise of Mbappe has shown up just how limited the Gabon international is on the pitch.
At 18, the Monaco prodigy is just so much more complete, willing (and able) to participate in more phases of play. He is rounded enough to play second fiddle to Cristiano 3.0, the Terminator penalty-box assassin throwback from the past who carried Real over the line in the Champions League.
This is something that Aubameyang, for all his gifts, is incapable of. At Dortmund, he is the one for whom the team plays, every attack constructed to offer him the ball in a position where there are as few obstacles between him and the goal as possible. There is already a player exactly like that at the Bernabeu, and he has won four Ballons d’Or and four Champions League titles.
So it is that over-reaching ambition, as well as a bit of naivety, has made it unlikely that his promise to his grandfather will ever be fulfilled. At the moment, China, with its monstrous wages and inscrutable aspect, seems the likeliest destination. It would be, all things considered, an anti-climactic end.