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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He’s more than just a long name. The 23-year-old attacker is relatively unknown on a global scale but he’s undoubtedly an iconic figure within the French top flight.
Aubameyeng was born in France but represents the little known African nation of Gabon due to his heritage. And he’s arguably one of African football’s brightest talents – a national hero back in Gabon.
In January 2007, Aubameyeng joined the AC Milan youth team and there he would be awarded the Roberto Bettega Trophy for being the top scorer at Champions Youth Cup held in Malaysia. Not bad for an up and coming 18-year-old, at the time.
Skip forward a year, and Aubameyeng is playing with French side Dijon in order to gain more first team opportunities and there he featured prominently, playing 34 matches and netting eight times.
But although the gradual development, in which Aubameyeng was starting to make a name for himself, there was still no ‘home’ as such for him as at this point there was a lot of travelling for loan moves. And guess what? In the 2009-10 season, he found himself shipped out on loan once more.
And this time it was with Lille, another French club. Here he was in and out of the setup making a total of 14 appearances and scoring just the twice. However, this was a significant move for young Aubameyeng as it gave him a taste of what goes on at a top level, high profile European side and would help him progress in his later moves.
But still, the explosive striker could not cement a place in the Milan youth team or indeed anywhere else. As is so often the case with youngsters from big clubs who go out on loan – Aubemeyeng was starting to think he may never earn a permanent move elsewhere. It was a mentally tough time but there was no time for feeling sorry for himself – soon Monaco would come knocking on the door…
Another season followed, in which he was out on loan again with another French outfit. This time with Monaco where 19 appearances were achieved and he managed to chip in with two goals. At this point, Aubameyang was feeling fresh and was hungry for action. He was at in the form of his life. So it was a good job another club came searching. And this club was the one he’s with now – Saint-Etienne.
Yes. I know. Another French club but yet another chance to show he’s more than just a loan starlet. He was loaned in January 2011, until the end of the campaign and in July, he extended the switch to the whole of the 2011-12 season where he spearheaded the attack and started to blossom under coach Christophe Galtier. And in December 2011, as a special Christmas gift, Aubameyang was presented with a permanent contract. Finally.
And just to emphasize how prominent he’s been for Saint-Etienne, already has he made 50 appearances for the club and scored 18 times. He’s maturing as an individual, and not only is he now in a settled environment at club level but also he’s found his feet internationally, too.
He’s one of, if not the, Gabon’s best players. Having made 25 appearances and scored eight goals – Aubameyang has shown his worth. He helped his country reach the quarter-finals of the 2012 African Cup of Nations where Gabon were co-hosts. And at the event he finished one of the top scorers.
However, in the quarter-final he missed the deciding spot kick in the nail-biting shoot-out which resulted in his country crashing out. And now, with the Olympic Games looming, it’s time for Aubameyang to redeem himself.
Gabon are in Group B with Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland with Pierre one of the three over-aged players in the squad. There is, despite the heavy expectation on him personally to perform to a high level at the Games, not too much pressure on the overall team as they head into it underdogs.
You may have picked up on the term ‘top scorer’ quite a bit in this article. And that supports the point that he’s lethal when put through , and even as a youngster he was consistently towards the higher ends of the top scorer charts. It’s a natural ability that he’s blessed with, to be able to keep cool in front of goal, and that is why he’s such a dangerous, menacing forward.
The crazy-haired hitman is full of athleticism, always hungry for goals and has an attitude that fans warm to. He runs the channels, links up with midfielders efficiently, makes clever runs off the ball and is an enigma that most Ligue 1 defenders struggle to handle.
And after speaking to Ligue 1 expert and columnist for Sky Sports, Jonathan Johnson, he told me that Aubameyang did in fact used to be considered a winger due to his skill and energy levels. And he praised Saint-Etienne chief Christophe Galtier for his decision to switch him from wide man to centre forward.
He said: “16 goals and six assists for a player that had previously been considered a winger was an impressive haul. Auba’s conversion into a centre-forward under Christophe Galtier has been an inspired move.”
But that unique eye for goal was, inevitably, going to end up with Aubameyang playing upfront. It’s where he can cause the most danger and his goals are helping Saint-Etienne exceed expectations in Ligue 1, as the team finished 7th last season.
But part of Aubameyang’s success can also be put down to Galtier’s tactics. According to Jonathan, he sets his side up to attack with venom and this benefits the strikers, like Aubameyang.
“Galtier’s side is set-up to attack with speed and ferocity which coupled with a strong defence makes the team difficult to play against especially when they are on the road.”
He’s been lucky to find a club like Saint-Etienne. Now Aubameyang is a stable footballer, and things are looking up. The Olympic Games in London could help get his name out there even more, and with the new Ligue 1 campaign kicking off shortly – there is another year for the classy no.7 to keep working hard and making an impact.
*With thanks to Ligue 1 expert Jonathan Johnson for his worthy comments into the piece