Chase for Saint-Etienne's speedy Aubameyang looms

Posted by James Horncastle

Sooner or later, everyone is left in his rearview mirror. On the road. And on the pitch, too. There's a flash of green and -- whoosh -- he's gone. Be it in a Saint-Etienne shirt or in his Aston Martin DB9 of the same colour, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a fast and furious footballer.

Philippe Merle/AFP/Getty ImagesPierre-Emerick Aubameyang, right, has been tested as running 100 meters in 11 seconds flat.

Asked by La Gazzetta dello Sport to reveal what he bases his game around, the striker was unequivocal. "Speed," he replied. The stopwatches held by Saint-Etienne's coaching staff prove him right. Aubameyang has been known to run 100 meters in 11 seconds flat in tests at the club's L'Etrat training ground.

Try to stay with him, and at the very least, you risk burnout.

"He's the quickest player on our team," coach Christophe Galtier told France Football. "His sprints over 40 meters kill opponents, and due to that he has even caused a few injuries among those who have tried to follow him."

Chasing Aubameyang is perhaps best left to the clubs interested in signing him this summer, and a number are hot in pursuit. In fact, quite a pileup is developing.

Anyone who's anyone in France these days, it seems, can expect to be tracked by Newcastle. A bid worth 12 million euros was reportedly made during the last transfer window, presumably on chief scout Graham Carr's recommendation, only to be rejected. Rubin Kazan supposedly upped the ante to €15m, but Saint-Etienne once again said no.

The reason for doing so was simple: Why jeopardize your chances of qualifying for the Champions League by selling your best player in the winter, an objective that, were it to be achieved, would maybe strengthen your chances of keeping him for another season?

Anyway, why not hold an auction come the end of the campaign considering that Paris Saint-Germain, Tottenham, Schalke, Borussia Dortmund, Roma and Fiorentina are all said to be interested, too?

There's an Aubameyang bandwagon, all right. And what's driving it is his performances. After Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he is the top scorer in Ligue 1 this season with 17 goals, an improvement on the 16 he managed last term.

Like Aubameyang's idols, "Thierry Henry and George Weah," he's fast and a finisher, a sprinter striker and sharp shooter. In addition to his pace, there's a precision to his play that goes a long way toward explaining why he is being courted by so many.

A study in L'Equipe at the beginning of April showed that of the 97 shots he'd had this season 59 were on target, an accuracy rating of 60 percent, which was better than that achieved by Lionel Messi (50 percent) and Cristiano Ronaldo (44 percent).

Aubameyang's gift for football owes a lot to his father, Pierre-Francois. He was once a footballer, too, playing in France with Le Havre, Toulouse and Nice throughout the '80s and '90s, first as a forward then a holding midfielder and a defender.
After hanging up his boots, the elder Aubameyang became a scout for AC Milan. Young Pierre-Emerick joined nearby Pro Patria at 14 and then went to Bastia in Corsica.

"Papa promised me if I scored a lot there, he'd get me a trial with Milan. And that's how things went," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Older brother Willy, who is now back in the Aubameyang's native country Gabon after unsuccessful spells at Avellino, Monza and Kilmarnock, had already been in Milan's academy for four years when Pierre-Emerick arrived.

"It was a great experience, also because I was with my brothers," Pierre-Emerick recalled. "I developed a lot, especially from a tactical point of view. You can play anywhere after playing in Italy."

Anywhere except AC Milan.

Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has a flair for the dramatic, including wamring up in a pair of green boots that were encrusted in £2,500 worth of crystals.

The Aubameyang boys never got the chance to pull on the red and black shirt in a competitive match. Pierre-Emerick trained a few times with the first team under the now PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti and alongside another of his childhood heroes, Ronaldo. He also played against Mario Balotelli, "a good friend of Willy's," who was in Inter's youth setup at the time.

"It was difficult to find space," Aubameyang accepts. "Now if they were to give me a chance, I'd play and well, too. But I haven't any regrets. I understand that it was too soon for Serie A in 2008."

A series of loans followed. Aubameyang went to Dijon, Lille and then Monaco, where trust amid a losing relegation battle wasn't about to be put in him. That arrangement was cut short, and so Saint-Etienne were the next to try him out in the spring of 2011.

After six months, they took up the option to sign him outright for just £1.5m. It meant a lot to Aubameyang. For the first time in three years, he was starting the season at the same club. His insecurity was gone. And with the stability and faith of a manager in Galtier, he started to realise his considerable potential.

To say Aubameyang's rise has been glittering is quite literal. Before a match against Lyon in the winter, he warmed up in a pair of green boots that were encrusted in £2,500 worth of Swarovski crystals.

"What I like are colours that flash," he told L'Equipe. "It comes from Michael."

Michael who, you might ask? "Michael Jackson!" Aubameyang replied. "Since I was a kid, I immersed myself in his music. Father would put MJ on and I'd dance. I still watch his clips and concerts every day. He always had something shiny on. It's a style. I like the flashy side."

After celebrating a goal in a Spider-Man mask, maybe the "fashion victim" Aubameyang will next be seen pulling on one of Jackson's sequinned gloves. Who knows? But joking aside, the Saint-Etienne striker doesn't want to be categorised as a show-off.

"It's true, I earn a lot of money," Aubameyang told L'Equipe. "But I have worked really hard to get where I am today and still am ... You can't judge a person when you don't know them. Some are big-headed, perhaps, But a footballer can also like clothes and big cars and be nice and intelligent, too. You can be flashy like me and stay humble."

Aubameyang describes himself as a country boy, simple and down to earth, unsophisticated even, who likes to be surrounded by his family. He claims to prefer the textile town and his family home of Laval in the northwest to the glamour of Saint-Tropez in the south of France.

Extroverted though he may be, Aubameyang does at least appear grounded. Again, that probably comes from his father and the wisdom he has passed on from his own experiences in football. They'll be important in deciding what his next steps are.

He has a delicate decision to make in the summer.

"We had a moral agreement with Aubameyang, his father and advisers," Galtier said last month, "but there won't be any surprises. We all know what will happen. We gave him our thumbs-up for him to leave, but also to stay with us next season if there is a Champions League adventure."

Get it wrong, and this car lover's career could stall. Get it right, and he could be on the road to bigger and better success. In the meantime, the race to sign Aubameyang continues.

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