There aren’t many forwards in world soccer who intertwine attributes as neatly and as devastatingly as Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Soccer is full of players with searing pace, forwards with a strong running style and strikers who are unerringly composed when chances come their way. But to marry all these traits makes for a very special talent and a footballer capable of swinging matches the way of his team.
This season, Aubameyang’s multifaceted skill set has made BVB a fearsome proposition. Thomas Tuchel’s team are just five points back on an awesome Bayern Munich outfit in the Bundesliga and after eliminating a fine Tottenham Hotspur team 5-1 on aggregate in the Europa League, they’re they big favorites to triumph in Europe’s second tier competition.
And while Tuchel’s vibrant coaching style has brought the very best out of players like Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan—who toiled for long spells of Jurgen Klopp’s last season—it’s the refinements in the make-up of Aubameyang which have been most striking.
The tools have always been there when it comes to the Gabon international. Having failed to break through into the Milan first team, he was shipped out to Saint-Etienne and was a major threat in Ligue 1.
Aubameyang was used as a winger in France primarily and while he was a regular goalscorer at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, when Klopp brought him to Dortmund in 2013, the forward was still as raw as a fish out of water. But with pace, power and a willingness to work hard, it was easy to see why BVB spent big money to get him on board.
Even so, it’s difficult to conceive that Dortmund anticipated such a rapid development. During his first term at the club Aubameyang was an auxiliary wide player, tasked with supplementing Robert Lewandowski; it was only when the Polish forward left for Bayern in the summer of 2014 that we saw the best from the former Milan man.
Indeed, while Klopp drafted in Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos that pre-season, it was Aubameyang who eventually emerged as Lewandowski’s successor. He gradually grew more and more confident leading the line, meaning the former acquisition was moved on and the latter reduced to a role as an impact substitute.
This season, Aubameyang has kicked on once again, with Tuchel making him the focal point of this tremendous team. His goals against Spurs at White Hart Lane on Thursday evening, the first a sizzling long-range effort and the second a classy finish, were his 34th and his 35th of what has been a brilliant campaign.
And not only has Aubameyang blended all those enthralling aforementioned qualities in 2015-16, he’s excelling in each.
The forward isn’t just quick, he’s blisteringly quick. Not only does he have a calm head when chances come his way, he scores all different types of goals. And as a robust Tottenham defense found out over two legs, while once a forward of wiry somatotype, Aubameyang is now brutishly strong on the ball.
They’re traits which make him thrilling to watch. While mastery of the ball in terms of technical flair and intricate dribbling are aesthetic treats, there are few sights more eye-catching in the sport than a dynamic player tearing past toiling defenders, as Aubameyang so often does. It’s a style of play which epitomizes the boldness and relentlessness of Dortmund since Tuchel took over.
The stars seem to have aligned for Aubameyang. Following the goals have been accolades, with the Bundesliga Player of the Month awarded to him in October, followed by the CAF’s African Player of the Year gong, ending Yaya Toure’s four-year monopoly. The result has been a forward on the prowl with an evident swagger.
“It made him stronger, even more self-confident,” said Tuchel of the CAF award in the wake of the win at Spurs. “Players like Auba improve themselves with their spirit, their mentality and their will to give everything, every day.”
Despite his haul this season, there are still areas in which the 26-year-old can better his game. His hold-up play remains a little ropey and if that was to be smoothed down, it’d be to the benefit of players like Marco Reus and Mkhitaryan, who link up tremendously with the Gabon international as it is.
Arguably there are still things for him to prove too, with some massive games to come this season and beyond. The club is currently immersed in a title race, the latter stages of the Europa League and set to qualify for the Champions League next season after all.
Naturally, there have been links to juggernauts of European soccer, with reports suggesting Premier League sides are willing to part with a staggering £70 million to take Aubameyang away from the Westfalenstadion.
It’s a remarkable amount, but the forward has evolved into a footballer who’d be almost impossible to replace for Tuchel. World-class strikers, a moniker Aubameyang undoubtedly deserves, usually are.
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