Signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Arsenal was not part of Barcelona’s plans for the winter transfer window, but the Gabonese with Spanish roots was waiting for their offer.
The forward scored a hat-trick in the first game of the regular season at the start and made all possible headlines, but his impact on the team’s game is much wider. He has scored 13 goals overall.
After hitting the Osasuna’s goal in early March, Aubameyang became Barça’s first newcomer since Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
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Barça wanted Morata
It is unlikely that anyone could have imagined that the player would get used to the new team so well. Before the transfer, Xavi doubted that this type of player would really fit into the plans of the Catalans.
The centre-forward was Xavi’s top priority in early January, with Spaniard Alvaro Morata from Juventus topping the list of potential signings. Even before the winter transfer window was open, the club purchased Ferran Torres from Manchester City. But the ex-player of Valencia sees himself first as a player of the flank, and not as the centre of the attack. The player and the coach have a complete mutual understanding of this.
Within a month, Barcelona’s strategy in the market changed and became more concrete. Many of the club’s functionaries, led by president Joan Laporta, have their own opinions, but the voices of Xavi, sports director Mateu Alemani, and head of the international department Jordi Cruyff were deciding. Cruyff’s influence has grown since the appointment of Xavi, as they share a vision of the needs of the team, especially when it comes to attacking.
After the purchase of Pierre-Emerick, Barca did not stop and made another raid on the Premier League. Wolverhampton’s former youth team player Adam Traore was loaned out in the final week of the transfer window.
Aubameyang was not among Barcelona’s transfer targets. Like many others, he was offered to join the team during the January re-bid period. The bosses of the club liked the idea. Arsenal wanted to get rid of the footballer, Aubameyang himself was ready for a pay cut, and the Catalans hardly fit into the financial constraints of La Liga.
There was no confidence in the success of the deal even on the last day of the transfer window.
Pierre-Emerick settled faster than Suarez
The race against time on the last day of the transfer window was only the beginning of the problems. In recent years, many newcomers have had difficulty adapting to Camp Nou. Most couldn’t have imagined that Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann would be such a poor match for Barça football. Those who managed to get comfortable did not do it right away: Luis Suarez spent 560 minutes on the field in eight games before opening the score for the club. Even Cesc Fàbregas, with Barca in his DNA, struggled after his 2011 comeback.
Aubameyang’s first two performances weren’t at all impressive. On his debut against Atlético Madrid, Pierre-Emerick ran pointlessly because Barça remained in the minority and defended. A week later, he went out for 35 minutes in the derby with Espanyol, made five touches, and never shot on goal. Luc de Jong also joined as a substitute and struck three times in eight minutes on the field, equalizing the score in extra time.
Xavi was not disappointed in the 33-year-old Gabonese. The coach liked the player’s work during training. Aubameyang started the match of the next round with Valencia at the start and already in the 23rd minute, he performed the first signature somersault in a new T-shirt. Before the break, he scored the second goal, and already sitting in the club bus he found out that the third goal was his, as the ball touched Aubameyang after a long-range shot by Pedri. He joked that the guys said he had to go back for the ball because the referee gave him the goal. He seems to have settled quickly.
Xavi occasionally remembered what he said about Aubameyang in 2020. At the time, the Al Sadd coach expressed doubt about his former team signing the Gabonese. Then the legend of Barça noted that Pierre-Emerick needed free space, and Barcelona was used to building the game through short passes. Now the coach’s words sound strange. The new Barcelona is very different from the team that Xavi played in for more than a decade. The coach had to quickly adapt to the situation and show his pragmatism. After a triple raid on the Premier League, the Catalans play straightforward and vertical football.
Whatever role his personal relationship with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta played in the Gabonese’s decline, the striker came to Spain as a different player. He constantly smiles, like a man who returned to normal after staying in the shadows for a while. Pierre-Emerick did not burn any bridges and speak well about his former employer, although in recent months the parties have constantly quarrelled.
The Gabonese died at Arsenal, but found motivation
Signals were regularly received from the Gunners camp about the strained relations of the highest-paid player of the team with the coach, but everything deteriorated at the end of 2021. Then Aubameyang was late to the training. He explained that the reason why he violated discipline, he did that due to having to care for his sick mother. Whatever it was, Arteta took the captain’s armband from the striker and sent him to train individually.
Ironically, family helped Aubameyang settle into a new place. The footballer’s father has a summer home not far from the Catalan capital (it was during a trip to his parent that Pierre-Emerick explained to the Arsenal bosses that he flew to Barcelona on the last day of the winter transfer window). The player’s connection to Spain is very strong and it played a huge role in him adapting so quickly.
It’s worth starting with the fact that Aubameyang is half-Spanish. His mother Margarita grew up a village 90 minutes away from Madrid. Emerick grew up in France. His Gabonese father built a football career there. However, Aubameyang spent his summers in Spanish with his family. Speaking Spanish fluently helped him build relationships with coaches, teammates, and local media quickly.
Not everything went smoothly with the media, as after moving to the Catalan team, the striker was reminded of his declarations of love for Real Madrid. Pierre-Emerick told L’Equipe in February 2016 that before his grandfather died in 2014, he promised him that one day he would play for Madrid. During that season, the player scored 39 goals over 49 matches while playing for Borussia Dortmund.
In recent weeks, the Gabonese had to explain that he said that because his grandfather was an Atlético fan. Pierre always said he would go to Real Madrid just to piss the grandpa off. He even wanted to play for the Spanish national team but followed the path of his father with Gabon. Now he has fulfilled his dream of playing in La Liga and he feels closer to his family. The player reinforced his words with powerful performances on the field.
A brisk start should not be underestimated, with Aubameyang making a hat-trick in Dortmund’s first Bundesliga game and scoring 10 goals in 13 Premier League opening games against Arsenal. The Gabonese has self-confidence and an innate instinct for a great striker, but it’s too early to talk about his importance to Barcelona at this point. Xavi has plenty of options: Dembele is doing well again, Memphis Depay has recovered from injury, and Ansu Fati is the main attacking figure whenever he comes out of the infirmary. Laporta regularly hints at a possible purchase of a striker, so 33-year-old Pierre-Emerick should not look too far into the future.