Aubameyang could become Chelsea’s new superstar striker in January
Last Saturday should have been Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s triumphant return. After over a month without a league goal, the Gabonese striker had scored one and set up two to put Dortmund 4-0 up at half-time against arch rivals Schalke.
Then the second half happened. Aubameyang missed a gilt-edged opportunity to make it 5-0, before receiving a second yellow card with the score at 4-2. Schalke went on to level the scores in injury time. Aubameyang, having briefly recaptured Dortmund hearts, was once again the villain of the piece.
Borussia Dortmund’s relationship with their star striker has become increasingly troubled of late.
Aubameyang’s goal drought and ill-discipline have provided a useful distraction from broader questions over Dortmund’s disastrous form, and his stock has fallen with both fans and employers. Cue the usual wave of speculation, with Aubameyang being linked to both Chelsea and Liverpool in the last few days.
Sport1 have reported that Dortmund would listen to offers of £65m or more. That is money which Chelsea, at least, would be able to spend, and they would get a lot in return.
Aubameyang is not one of Europe’s most talked about strikers for nothing. Apart from his sheer velocity — he claims to have run 30 metres faster than Usain Bolt — his change of pace and movement are a constant headache for Bundesliga back lines, and he is ruthless on the counter-attack.
That is Aubameyang at his best: incisive, entertaining, exhilarating. He plays with a smile and rockets attached to his heels.
He remains, however, far from perfect, and in the current crisis, his shortcomings have come to the fore. In one-on-one situations, he is often ineffective, and while his movement is exquisite, he is highly reliant on good service from the flanks.
In recent years, the Bundesliga have spun a successful marketing yarn about Aubameyang’s rivalry with Robert Lewandowski, but the Auba-hype cannot hide his limitations forever. He is prolific, and he is extremely fast, but he is not a striker on the same level as Lewandowski, Harry Kane or Sergio Aguero.
With that in mind, Dortmund may see the current crisis as an expedient moment to cash in on Aubameyang, particularly given his recent fall from grace. If the defence has been Dortmund’s main problem, there is at least some irritation that their main man up front managed to stop scoring just as the team started struggling. His off-field indiscretions have only exacerbated the problem.
After repeatedly turning up late to training, Aubameyang’s unauthorised video shoot with Red Bull-sponsored freestyler Sean Garnier earned him a suspension for the game against Stuttgart. The club’s hand was apparently forced after several of Aubameyang’s team-mates had complained about him.
That unpopularity will not have been helped by Saturday’s debacle, with Aubameyang’s red card leaving his team-mates in the lurch. Goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller was noticeably blunt, calling Aubameyang ‘idiotic’.
The club, on the other hand, have struck a different tone. At the Dortmund AGM, just hours after the draw with Schalke, chief-executive Hans-Joachim Watzke leapt to his striker’s defence.
‘I don’t like the way Auba has been treated in the last few weeks,’ said Watzke, who had authorised the Stuttgart ban just 10 days earlier.
‘In the derby, I saw a Pierre-Emerick who was giving his all. Maybe that’s why he got the second yellow card. How often has he saved our backsides in the past?’ Watzke has fought tooth and nail to keep Aubameyang at Dortmund in recent seasons, and will not allow him to be frozen out at a time of crisis.
Yet for all the CEO plays good cop, it seems increasingly likely that Aubameyang will leave Dortmund soon, perhaps as early as January.
With Premier League clubs circling, reports suggest that Aubameyang is actively searching for a new employer. It is a claim which has been furiously denied by the striker’s brother.
‘He just wants to score goals and win games,’ Willy Aubameyang told Bild. ‘His head is completely and utterly in Dortmund. We are not talking about a transfer.’
You could forgive Dortmund fans for being slightly cynical. This, after all, is the striker who has previously linked himself to Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, and who was on the brink of a move to China’s Tianjin Quanjiang last summer.
He later admitted that, had the Chinese club acted more decisively, he probably would have moved.
At 28, he is at his peak. In the madness of today’s transfer market, a striker of his quality is probably worth the money for a Premier League side.
For Dortmund, meanwhile, the money is probably worth the loss of their increasingly problematic striker. If he truly is isolated within the squad, and if the likes of Chelsea are willing to pay a big enough sum, a move in the winter may be on the cards.
It would be a sad end to his time in Dortmund. Aubameyang has only won one trophy at BVB, and he has never been quite the hero he threatened to be. But with 137 goals in 208 games, he does not deserve to leave as a villain.