Neymar is not the only mohawk-styled forward having joined one of Europe's biggest clubs this summer. So has Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Gabonese forward brought in to add depth to Borussia Dortmund’s attack and potentially replace Robert Lewandowski in good time for next season.
With Lewandowski all but certain not to be at Dortmund for 2014/15, last season's Champions League finalists knew they had to sign someone to take over his goalscoring mantle. Dortmund stopped his departure this summer and brought in Aubameyang, giving him a season to bed in. But the Gabonese hitman is more than just a potential centre forward replacement for the Polish goal machine. Aubameyang excelled last season for Saint-Etienne in France, playing in a front three alongside the Brazilian Brandao, who occupied central areas, and the creative attacking midfielder Yohan Mollo. Aubameyang could drift out wide or cut inside, and he was the driving force for Les Verts as they ended a three decade long wait for silverware with victory in the Coupe de la Ligue.
Aubameyang’s exploits in France had gone under the radar somewhat, a combination of the fact that he was not been playing for a title challenging side and that he is not Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He was the joint second top scorer, along with Nice’s Dario Cvitanich, last season, and his consistent goalscoring was pivotal for his club as they excelled in the last two campaigns.
Particularly lethal in open play, Aubameyang netted more goals than anyone else in Ligue 1 last season if set pieces are removed from statistics. A good team player too, the Gabonese set up eight goals for his Saint-Etienne team-mates, the fifth highest record in the French league.
The forward is already benefiting from his move to Dortmund. Used to playing under a talented young coach in Christophe Galtier in a similarly youthful side, Aubameyang is showing all the signs of adapting well. The fans have already tried to make him welcome. Known for celebrating with masks from his time in France, Aubameyang set up Marco Reus for the fourth goal in the German Supercup win over Bayern Munich, and at the end of the game was presented with a spiderman mask by the fans. He duly put it on to entertain his new public before returning the mask and it seems as though the mohawked forward is already loved in his new home; indeed, his standing only improved further with a lethal hat-trick in Dortmund's 4-0 opening Bundesliga romp away at Augsburg.
Aubameyang is looking like a big winner from Dortmund’s commitment to attack – which is significantly greater than Saint-Etienne’s. A question mark may be raised over whether he will be happy simply being another fish in the pond in Germany however. Whereas at Saint-Etienne he was the key man, Aubameyang will have to recognise the seniority of Lewandowski, of Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. And his showy personality – he once sported a €3,000 pair of Swarovski crystal encrusted football boots in a game against Lyon – may have to be curbed.
He may also find himself missing out on a starting eleven spot at times. Lewandowski will remain the first choice until he leaves, while Reus attacks from the left and Jakub Blaszczykowski from the right, with Mkhitaryan taking on Mario Gotze’s role as the central playmaker. But Aubameyang will know that his time will come. He will add variety and options going forward, giving coach Jurgen Klopp the opportunity to field him on the left and Reus on the right, or visa versa, as well as the inevitable breaks Lewandowski will get. The challenge for Aubameyang will be to take the opportunities when they arise and make himself undroppable by repeating the prolific form of recent seasons with Saint-Etienne. Judging by the Gabonese's early form, it is something he is already well on the way to doing.
What makes Aubameyang and Dortmund the perfect match is his blistering speed. In a world where players are seemingly so regularly blessed with apparently electrifying pace that the attribute starts to seem a little meaningless, Aubameyang’s speed quotient is a little out of the ordinary. It was some feat to have already been hailed as the fastest player to have ever played for Dortmund, considering how much their game relies on a fast and frenetic passing style. As if that wasn’t enough, the club made public that he had run faster over 30 metres during a training session – 3.7 seconds – than Usain Bolt managed whilst setting the world 100m record in Berlin four years ago (although Bolt famously picks up his most blistering pace after 40 metres).
Either way, it is something worth adding to the CV, although it may also make Klopp inclined to use Aubameyang as an impact substitute when the game is stretched and the opponents tired. Europe’s giants were given a full introduction to Dortmund last season, and the likes of Lewandowski and Reus are feared names among the continent’s defenders. Even Mkhitaryan has a reputation across Europe for his performances in the Champions League with Shakhtar Donetsk. But this year, as dishevelled defences scramble to contain the relentless pressure of Dortmund’s attacks, they will have a new face with a recognisable hairdo to watch out for as well.
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