Pierre Emerick-Aubameyeng is excited.
Don’t believe that talk about the Gabon international being put out by the high profile signing of Robert Lewandowski, tossed aside like some bitter, old dried-up fruit. No. Auba is pumped up for what’s to come; an avalanche of goals and a period of blissful Barca dominance. The former Arsenal captain played with Lewa during their time together at Borussia Dortmund, combining for 44 goals in the solitary season they shared. He recently sat down with ESPN and broke his silence on the clubs signing of the Polish hitman.
‘I was really excited because I know him well. We played together at Dortmund and had some nice times over there’ Aubameyeng said. ‘I was just happy and when this was official, we are reunited and we had some fun words about the past, but I’m really happy because this is how Barcelona will compete, with great strikers and that’s what this club is all about.’
Toeing the party line? Maybe, but what else can he really do? Auba hit 13 goals in all competitions during the second half of last season after arriving from the Gunners in January. He galvanised the whole team, helping them on to Champions League qualification. It’s important to remember he came to the Camp Nou at a time when Barcelona was perhaps just a few weeks removed from its lowest ebb. He came to a team in desperate need and delivered the goods. It has to sting to find himself playing second fiddle just six months later, and through no fault of his own. There must be some kind of cruel irony that his becoming a success at his dream club may have ultimately cost him his place in the team. No Champions League, no big summer signings. Sure, Lewandowski is a marquee signing, one we are all justifiably excited about, but does his arrival spell the end for Aubameyeng?
Conventional wisdom has it that Xavi will look to play a 4-3-3 this season, with one lone striker through the middle. That lone striker is unquestionably Lewandowski. He was not signed to play backup or compete for his place. Delivering support to him down the flanks will be any two from Ansu Fati, Dembele, Raphinha, Memphis and Ferran Torres. That is a long queue to be stuck in, but he may yet find himself at the front of it before he overtakes the former Bayern Munich man at the head of the one for strikers. Even so, he will have his work cut out for him. Raphinha was another big summer signing and has hit the ground running in preseason, scoring two goals in two games and adding a further two assists. Ansu Fati is the anointed one, the academy prospect tagged to take over from Lionel Messi (a mantel that surely nobody would want to be saddled with.) Ousmane Dembele is widely considered to be one of Xavi’s favourite players. Even Aubameyeng was full of praise for the Frenchman in his latest interview.
‘He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with’ he replied when asked about Dembele recently signing a new contract after extremely protracted, and at times fractured, negotiations. ‘I’m sure about that because his quality is something crazy and every time I play with him I enjoy it on the pitch.
I’m really happy he re-signed. Everyone was a bit scared because we didn’t know if we would re-sign (him) or not. In the end he did it and I’m sure he knows Barcelona is one of the best clubs in the world, so this is the place to be.’
Realistically, then, that puts Aubameyeng 4th in the pecking order for wide positions. Or, to put in another, more succinct way, resigned to being on the bench. Never mind the fact that the biggest motivating factor in his desire to leave North London was his being resigned to, you guessed it, a wide position. All added up it seems a harsh treatment for a player who gave his all to rescue a ship teetering on the brink last term. Still, this is the nature of business, the ruthless forward march of ambition and progress. Auba deserves respect from Barca fans for what he helped achieve here already. Personally, I hope he gets to stick around and play his part, though it would be some kind of strange and unusual punishment to leave him rotting on the side-lines. He deserves much better that that.
Who knows, maybe Xavi will surprise us all and go with two up front. Perhaps he will give us the one of the most threatening and potent forward lines in all of Europe. Even better, maybe, than they were before. Auba certainly thinks so.
‘Obviously, I think we have more experience, we can maybe do better than the past in Dortmund, I am sure about that. Personally, I will try to give my best and I’m sure he will do it. We will hope we have better numbers than in the past.’
During his time in the Blaugrana, Aubameyeng has done nothing other than give his best. I fully expect he will continue to do so. Competition for places will undoubtedly help to make Barcelona great again.
Let’s just hope it isn’t at the expense of the man who helped to get them there in the first place