Continuing our popular series on African soccer stars playing in the European top-flight leagues, Michael Renouf focuses on Arsenal and Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Pierre-Emerick Emiliano François Aubameyang was always going to be an international footballer – the only question was, for which club?
He is the son of former Gabonese international Pierre Aubameyang; his mother Margarita is Spanish and he was born in Laval, France on 18 June 1989.
He was approached to play for Italy at youth level and did in fact turn out for the land of his birth in the under-21s, but he would ultimately follow his two older brothers, Catilina and Willy’s lead and choose to represent his African roots on the full international stage.
The now prolific striker started his professional career at Italian giants AC Milan, who did not see his potential and after sending him out on loan to several French clubs early in his career, eventually cashed in their chips when they sold him to Ligue 1 side St. Etienne, in the winter transfer window of the 2011/12 season.
In 2009, before his permanent move, while turning out for Dijon in Ligue 2, the former French national team player, then head coach for Gabon, Alain Giresse, selected him whilst still a teenager for the national side, his first time at full international level. It was a decision that took little over half an hour to pay off as Pierre-Emerick scored his side’s opening goal in a 2-1 victory against Morocco.
He scored his first hat-trick as a professional in the second half of St. Etienne’s 4-2 home win over Lorient just before Christmas in 2012.
It was while representing the club – which, despite all PSG’s recent success since being bankrolled by Qatari cash, has still won the most top-flight titles in France – that Aubameyang won his first trophy, when they beat Rennes 1-0 to lift the 2013 Coupe de la Ligue.
In the 2012/13 season, he would finish as the second-top goalscorer in the league with 19 goals – only being bettered by the legendary Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
This brought him to the attention of Jurgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund. Just before he made his move across the border, Aubameyang scored a hat-trick of penalties for Gabon in a World Cup qualifier to help ‘The Brazilians’ (so-called after their kit rather than their prowess on the international stage) to a 4-1 triumph over Niger in the Gabonese capital of Libreville.
27 July 2013 was the day he made his competitive bow for Dortmund, as a second-half substitute in the DFL-Supercup, as the team beat Bayern Munich 4-2. A fortnight later he made his Bundesliga debut, which was the stuff of dreams, scoring a hat-trick in a 4-0 away demolition of FC Augsburg, the other goal coming from a certain Robert Lewandowski.
A year later he would play in his second DFL-Supercup, again against Bayern and again coming out on the winning side. This time he was selected to start and in the second half managed to get on the scoresheet with the last goal in a 2-0 victory.
The opener was scored by Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with whom Aubameyang would form a lethal partnership during their time plying their trade for the team, that for the last decade has been Bayern Munich’s main rivals.
In 2015 he became the first and so far, only Gabonese player to win the African Footballer of the Year award, for which he has been regularly voted into the top three.
2016/17 saw Aubameyang became the top scorer in Germany with 31 Bundesliga goals, swapping places with former teammate Lewandowski – now at Bayern Munich – who had held him off to win the award the previous season.
Early on in the season, he was on fire, including scoring what his Spanish mother would call a ‘poker’ (4 goals) in an away humbling of Hamburg by 5-2. He would also score the winning goal – his 40th of the season – with a coolly executed ‘Panenka’- style penalty that left Eintracht Frankfurt keeper Lukas Hradecky (who had conceded the spot kick) floundering, in Dortmund’s 2-1 victory in Berlin, which helped his team lift the DFB-Pokal for the fourth time in the club’s history, in front of 74,000 fans.
However, despite the fact that he has not scored less than 25 goals in a season in all competitions since the 2013/14 season, his first in Germany, his haul of silverware is not as great you would expect for such a talented individual. He has won two German supercups, not considered a major trophy by many fans or players. He has won the French League Cup and the German FA Cup once each but no league titles or European trophies.
But of course, no striker, however talented, can deliver trophies on this own. He has to be in teams that are exceptionally competitive and have all round excellence. But he still has time left in his career and the major silverware could well follow in a stream if and when he finds himself in an all-conquering side.
He was again on the move in the winter transfer window at the beginning of 2018, when, the man who loves to celebrate his goals with a somersault or a mask made his way to the English Premier League (EPL), signing for Arsenal.
He scored his first goal for the Gunners with a deft finish over England’s Jordan Pickford to put them 4-0 up inside 40 minutes as he linked up with former Dortmund teammate Mkhitaryan in his new team, helping to blitz Everton on his debut in a game that finished 5-1.
He hit the ground running in the EPL, bagging 10 goals in 13 games, including the winner against Huddersfield, which proved to be the last goal of Arsene Wenger’s 22-year tenure in north London, although he could do little to prevent a 3-0 defeat in the League Cup final to Manchester City.
The 18/19 season, under new Arsenal coach Unai Emery, started off relatively slowly for Aubameyang, with only two goals in his first seven games, but thanks to a last-day brace he ended up winning the Premier League Golden Boot (22 goals/36 games) in a three way tie with fellow African superstars Mo Salah and Sadio Manė.
He ended the season with 31 goals in all competitions, including a hat-trick in the second leg of the Europa League semi-final in Valencia. Over the two legs Arsenal netted seven times, all scored by the joint strike force of Aubameyang and Alexander Lacazette.
Although the two former Ligue 1 rivals formed a firm friendship and became somewhat of a deadly duo for the Gunners – they scored 50 of the team’s 112 goals plundered over all competitions for the season – they still ended the season without a trophy, as not even Europa League specialist Emery – he had previously guided Seville to three titles – could guide the north London team to victory over Premier League rivals Chelsea.
What more could Aubameyang have done, you ask? Well, actually he could become even more deadly in front of goal as he missed more ‘big chances’ than any other player in the EPL for the season.
This season Emery promoted Pierre-Emerick to club captain a few weeks before he was relieved of his duties and replaced as manager by Mikel Arteta.
Gabon’s all-time record goalscorer was sitting second behind Jamie Vardy in the race for the Premier League’s Golden Boot at time of writing, having just become only the second Arsenal player to score 20 goals in consecutive Premiership seasons after Thierry Henry’s five season run in 2001-2006.