COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
Certainly, there will come a time when transfer speculation involving a high-profile move to China does not elicit a knowing nod and a shrug. This peculiar act of obeisance is indicative of the wider perception, a concession to the relentless pull of money as engorged China digs its suckers deeper into the back of European football.
Initially, this was a direction signifying the great wane, the beginning of the end in the life of a professional footballer when he dips below the horizon of 30, setting where the sun rises. However, as seen in last week's puzzling transfer involving Cedric Bakambu, and in the latest rumours swirling around Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, there is now a great deal more ambition in target selection.
Bakambu, on the cusp of 27, certainly isn't finished, and neither is Aubameyang at 28. Both, especially so in the case of the latter, are in the best form of their careers. Yet, there has been a sense of the inevitable for the Gabon international, mainly because the demand for him among the European elite is so oddly wan.
Indeed, it is telling that his options are so limited, even though recent transfer activity has seen some suggestions of a reunion with former boss Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Arsenal are also rumoured to be mulling over an offer as they prepare for life after Alexis Sanchez, and that's the entire auction pretty much.
Much of that ambivalence is down to the very nature of the player, allied to the circumstances of his affiliation with Borussia Dortmund. He is sure to command a high fee, but the perception is that, for all his explosive pace and eye-catching numbers, he simply does not round out well enough as a footballer.
He is a penalty-box player in an era which increasingly has no use for the type, especially so for the bracket of clubs that can afford to have him.
That makes him almost as endangered as he is dangerous, required a certain type of cosseted existence within which his gifts are protected and channeled: the football must be ultra-quick, direct, and focused on exploiting space in behind opposing backlines. This is a reality not shared by many top-level sides, who often have to remain patient against massed ranks.
Beyond the consideration of whether or not he has the technical chops for the higher level his output seems to demand, there is a question revolving around legacy, and where a move to China this early would place him in the pantheon of great African strikers.
Didier Drogba was only two years younger when he joined Chelsea in 2004, already a UEFA Cup finalist with Marseille, and he wrote an enduring legend in the decade that followed. At 28, Samuel Eto'o had won a Champions League crown and was on the verge of another with Barcelona, had recorded a podium finish in the Ballon d'Or stakes, and was the most feared striker in Europe.
It isn't simply that these were clearly superior players; Drogba certainly wasn't one to start with, and his early Chelsea career was characterized as much by frustration as it was by excellence. It is two things mainly: first, both players lifted their teams, representing a quantum leap in success and accomplishment.
It was with the arrival of Eto'o that the concept of a proper Big Two truly began to coalesce in Spain in the mid-noughties. Chelsea were already flush under Roman Abramovich's patronage before the arrival of Drogba, but the Ivoirian took them up a couple of notches. Aubameyang simply has not done the same, and while his time at Dortmund has seen him rake in goals by the bucketload, they are demonstrably weaker than they were before he arrived.
In fairness, that is not entirely his own fault, as the sheer financial reality of German football makes it hard to kick against the pricks for a sustained period. However, he is a constant reminder for Dortmund of Bayern Munich's most blatant emasculation: the pilfering of Robert Lewandowski in 2014, being that he was signed as a direct replacement.
What is clearly his fault though, and what makes the prospect of a move to China an even bigger asterisk against his own greatness, is that there is scant potential to evolve.
As referenced earlier, Drogba did have to improve his skills and become a more decisive presence within games even upon arriving Chelsea for a then club-record fee.
Eto'o similarly did the same, reinventing himself first as a right winger in order to accommodate a once-in-a-lifetime talent by the name of Lionel Messi, and then famously filling in as an ersatz left-back as Inter defied Barcelona enroute to winning the Champions League in 2010.
There is simply no potential for this sort of reinvention in a league like the CSL which, for all its ostentation, is still too busy finding itself. Neither is there much precedent for coming back into major prominence in Europe in the event that the move does not work, especially for a 28-year-old whose stock is not exactly in huge demand at the moment.
A move to China at this time arguably robs Aubameyang of the one thing he needs to be considered truly great: a chance to evolve into something more complete.