It’s a tale of two strikers. Born just 10 months apart, their careers overlapped for but a single season before destiny sent the elder on his way to something bigger and better. Each currently has 13 goals in the Bundesliga and 17 on the season. Each has scored a hat trick in European competition; for each that triple came the same week they posted at least three goals in a domestic game.
That’s where the similarities end. One is known for being a hard worker, for putting his head down and helping his side to victory. His Instagram reflects his dedication, showing photos of him taking charge on the pitch, celebrating with teammates, and in his downtime, hanging out with his wife.
The other does not shy from attention. He is a man who firmly believes that the more sparkle, the better, even wearing boots encrusted with thousands of crystals. He drives a gold Lamborghini, he loves pretending he’s a superhero, and he celebrates each goal with an acrobatic forward flip.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2015/16 …
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) October 25, 2015
Would it be all that surprising to find that, by the end of the year, it’s the flashy, captivating, quirky goalscorer who has assumed the title of superstar?
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had long seemed to hold more promise than true talent. The son of former Gabon international Pierre Aubameyang, the younger Auba joined the AC Milan youth setup in 2007. He never made a senior appearance for the Italian side, however, instead being farmed out to various French sides. He ultimately moved to AS Saint-Étienne on a permanent deal, where he wore those crystal boots, first donned his Spiderman mask, and finished second only to Zlatan Ibrahimović in goals scored.
It looked as though those scoring talents weren’t going to translate to the Bundesliga, however. In the 2013-2014 season, his first with Borussia Dortmund, Aubameyang scored just 13 goals in 32 appearances, six less than the previous year. That season belonged to Robert Lewandowski, who scored 20 in his final year with BVB.
But despite back-to-back-to-back seasons in which he scored 20 goals or more, Lewandowski, too, was not seen as a true world-class striker. Even after he scored four goals against Real Madrid on his way to taking Dortmund to the 2013 Champions League final, even after Bayern Munich wooed him over to their side in 2014, Lewandowski was still often viewed more as the hardworking sort who knew how to benefit from the strength of the players behind him.
This season the critics are getting their comeuppance, but to be fair to the skeptics, it’s likely most had rarely seen either Aubameyang or Lewandowski playing to their true potential. A change in circumstance has allowed both to flourish this season.
Lewandowski has benefited greatly from circumstance. Sure, last season he scored 17 Bundesliga goals, but when your team scores 80, that’s kind of a drop in the bucket. Eintracht Frankfurt’s Alexander Meier scored 19, and no one’s arguing that he’s one of the best in the world. But Lewandowski’s on pace to double that tally this year. Why? He’s getting help.
Arjen Robben, who also knocked in 17 last season, missed nearly two months this season through injury. Franck Ribéry has been out since last spring. Both are the shooting type, more likely to cut inside and have a go at goal than to put in a cross. In their absence, new Bayern hotshot Douglas Costa is often on the wing, and he’s much more apt to float in a cross than shoot himself. When the young Kingsley Coman gets a start as well, as he did against both Mainz and Dinamo Zagreb, count on even more balls being delivered to the center. Lewandowski, pretty much the epitome of a classic No. 9, benefits from such generosity — he scored five in those two games. The forward himself also credits the play of Thomas Müller, saying the German international’s “second striker” role helps him to take on defenses.
As for Aubameyang, he’s benefiting from the general upheaval that surrounded his club last season. After Lewandowski left, Ciro Immobile was brought in to fill the center forward role, but the Italian never settled into Bundesliga life. So Aubameyang, previously used by Jürgen Klopp as a winger, was moved into the center. He didn’t flourish last year, but it’s safe to say that BVB did little to back him up, fighting as they were to move from the bottom of the table to the European positions. Still, he was one bright light in an otherwise black time.
Under new coach Thomas Tuchel, however, the light has grown brighter. Aubameyang remains up top, and under Tuchel’s guidance, he’s mastering the art of linking up with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus. He’s a player who has always relied on his speed — it’s said that he’s faster than Usain Bolt over 30 meters — but he’s now learning to control his frantic pace, knowing exactly where to move to finish his shot. The increased discipline is paying off: Aubameyang has scored in every Bundesliga match save for one, against Mainz, where he provided two assists.
It’s an unnecessary debate, the one that pits the hard-working Lewandowski against the flashier skills of Aubameyang. The Bundesliga certainly has room for two superstars. Yet you get the sense that Lewadowski will never truly assume such a mantle. He’ll get attention, and he’ll get his fair share of headlines, but it’s Aubameyang that’ll have the swagger. He’s the one pushing Dortmund back into the conversation, while Bayern need no such help. And the rumors of big-money transfer deals will have tongues wagging.
The pair may finish the year tied for the top of the goalscoring charts, but it’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang that has the star quality that just may have people believing he’s the better of the two.
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