Scouting isn’t rocket science! Every time a Premier League side signs a good foreign player the nation goes crazy. Who is this mystery guy? Where did he come from? Anyone with a decent knowledge of the game outside the UK would have known that the likes of Santi Cazorla, Oscar and Papisse Demba Cissé were likely to succeed, and there are plenty more of them out there. So who’s the next “secret” star to watch out for? Who is the next Cabaye?
The last thing he did on a football pitch was pull the other side’s goalkeeper to the floor…in his own penalty area. He got away with it, and as a result his club went top of the league, but it’s not in his own area that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is getting rave reviews, as you might imagine from what he got up to last Friday! His work at the other end has certainly played a major role in putting Saint Étienne at the pinnacle of Le Championnat.
Aubameyang rose to wide attention in the 2012 African Nations Cup. Indeed, he became the poster boy of the tournament, the fresh-faced star of host nation Gabon. His goals electrified the competition, but his missed penalty in a shoot-out led to elimination in the quarter-finals.
Despite that traumatic moment, his performances in the tournament, in which he finished joint top scorer, certainly suggested he can cope with the pressure of big matches as he seemed to relish having the expectations of his nation on his shoulders, scoring his side’s opening goal in each of their three group games. He scored as Gabon were knocked out of the 2012 Olympics at the group stage too.
His pedigree is good: he was brought to Europe as an 18 year old by Milan, but spent much of his time on loan in France, first with Dijon, then to Lille and Monaco.
He got decent game time at each club and no doubt developed his game, but it was when he finally left the San Siro that he flourished. A transfer to Saint Étienne in 2011 bore immediate fruit as he hit sixteen goals in his first season, and he has followed that up in similarly prolific manner; at the moment he’s behind only Zlatan Ibrahmovic in the Championnat top scorers list.
Usually from a starting position on the right of a front three for St Étienne, Aubameyang is all right foot and brimming with confidence. He loves cutting inside, as his scoring rate would suggest, and although he’ll often switch to the left for a spell during the game, he tends to be less effective when he does so. Likewise, he can play through the middle, but needs the right sort of service. He’s quite good in the air considering his slught frame but would hardly be expected to beat centre backs to headers, and isn’t great with his back to goal. He needs service he can run onto when playing as a central striker, utilising his terrific pace.
Les Verts have a nice balance up front. The arrival of Brandao from Marseilles has allowed Christophe Galtier to play the big Brazilian as a battering ram up front with Aubameyang and the ex-Leeds winger Max Gradel either side of him, darting inside to feed off the scraps the target man creates. It’s crucial, of course, for the wide strikers to chip in with their fair share of goals in a 4-3-3, and Aubameyang is perfectly suited to the role, constantly popping up in dangerous areas.
Once he’s in the box he has a nose for the opportunity and will attack the six yard box, but he’s eye-catchingly agile and able to throw himself into acrobatic efforts.
He’s very quick too: dropping deep on the flank to receive the ball or on the break he’s fast enough to beat a full back for pace and a swiftly create a threat. If he goes outside, he tends to have an end product too: he’s pretty consistent in missing the first defender out when he crosses, favouring a driven delivery. He tends to look to hit the goal line before delivering, but doesn’t waste too much time getting there, so players in the middle are usually attacking the box when his delivery arrives rather than waiting for him to deliver. For a flair player, he’s pretty frill-free: and is adept at popping the ball off first time.
However, there’s still a certain swagger to his play. Allowed some time on the ball he likes to bring it to a halt, look up with the ball at his toe and assess his options. There may be an elements of posing in this, but he has poise and likes to get his head up.
There are drawbacks. If you’re looking for a dynamic player who shuttles up and down the line, Aubameyan’s not for you. He’ll drop back into his half when required, but not with relish: defending’s not this slight sprinter’s thing. But if you need a quick wide striker with end product, he might just be your man.