Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the dead-eyed finisher from Gabon currently bagging goals for fun in Ligue 1 - he has four goals in six appearances so far this season. With Paul Lambert seemingly looking to get rid of Darren Bent, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be the ideal replacement for Aston Villa. A brilliant finisher, but one capable of linking up with the team's play in a way Bent is not.
Five African Stars Of The Future....
Three months on from what was arguably the finest African Cup of Nation's there has ever been, and with a summer transfer window looming that could see many of Africa's next generation of stars snapped up by Europe's biggest clubs, Joe Sharratt picks out five of the tournament's stand out players, and identifies their potential destinations...
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)
That twenty-two year old Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finished joint-top goalscorer at the African Cup of Nations alongside such established figures as Didier Drogba and Manucho speaks volumes of this young man's confidence and ability. The son of former a former Gabonese international, Aubameyang was born in the town of Laval in northern France in 1989, and was signed by AC Milan at the age of just seventeen. Recognising his potential, AC Milan sent the striker out on loan to French sides Dijon, Lille and Monaco in consecutive seasons to gain vital experience, where his performances were rewarded with a sole appearance for the French national under-21 side in 2009.
In December 2011, following a six month loan spell, Saint-Etienne secured the signing of Aubameyang on a permanent deal, where he has made a name for himself as a powerful and skilful striker, equally comfortable being deployed out wide or through the middle. Aubameyang's goals for les Verts last season were crucial in their quest for a lucrative Champions League spot, and his three goals in four games at the Cup of Nations carried Gabon to a quarter-final showdown with Mali. Tragically for Aubameyang, his tournament may well be most remembered for the penalty miss which eliminated his country, though at just twenty-years of age he has plenty of time to avenge that defeat.
Aubameyang only signed a contract with Saint Etienne a year ago, so a move anytime soon is unlikely. Lyon, Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain are perhaps the only clubs in France with the status or financial clout to tempt Saint-Etienne into selling, and a move overseas may still be a couple of season away.
Emmanuel Mayuka (Zambia)
Another joint-top goalscorer, Emmanuel Mayuka was actually recognised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) as the African Cup of Nations golden boot winner by virtue of having one more assist than his closest rivals. The award capped a remarkable tournament for the little man, who has been linked with a string of top European sides, as his country clinched the trophy in memory of one of the great Zambian sides of all time, who were tragically killed in a plane crash in 1993.
Born in Kabwe, Zambia in 1990 Mayuka rose to prominence at the 2007 FIFA under-20 World Cup in Canada, where he was the youngest competitor at just sixteen years of age. Though Mayuka failed to find the net at the tournament, his performances and natural skill caught the attention of Maccabi Tel Aviv who, in 2008, completed a deal to bring the striker to Israel. After two successful years in the Middle East, Swiss side BSC Young Boys paid close to £1 million to secure the services of the striker, where he has continued to impress. Mayuka's success at the Cup of Nations have increased his stock even further, and rumours of a move to one of Europe's biggest leagues are gathering pace.
Should Newcastle United lose Demba Ba over the summer, as is being speculated, then Magpies boss Alan Pardew may see Mayuka as an ideal replacement. Though not as physical as Ba, Mayuka possesses exceptional pace and is very intelligent with his movement off the ball, two traits that would complement the Geordies new hero Papiss Demba Cisse. Mayuka has spoken previously of his desire to join Marseille, which could be another possible destination for the Zambian.
Aubameyang was born in the town of Laval in northern France in 1989, and was signed by AC Milan at the age of just seventeen
Ibrahima Traore (Guinea)
As a young footballer cutting your teeth on the international stage there's no better way to announce yourself to the world than by scoring an injury time winner to take your country to the finals of a major tournament at the expense of one of the powerhouses of football in your continent. Just such a fate befell young winger Ibrahima Traore when, in October last year, he scored an equaliser deep into added on time to take Guinea to the 2012 African Cup of Nations at the expense of Nigeria.
Though born in France, Traore has played his football in Germany since 2007 when Bundesliga side Hertha BSC recognised the raw talent of the young wide man, and plucked him from depths of the French amateur leagues. Though Traore failed to make the grade at Hertha, he blossomed following a move to second tier FC Augsburg, and is now back plying his trade in the top flight with VfB Stuttgart.
Traore has found his opportunities with Stuttgart limited since returning for the African Cup of Nations, and though he only signed a new contract last summer, he may seek a move in order to obtain regular first team football. FC Koln and SC Freiburg are two clubs who may be interested in the winger.
Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)
As the only African based player on this list, you would be forgiven for thinking that twenty-one year old Tunisian playmaker Youssef Msakni was something of an unknown quantity, but in reality the exciting midfielder is already on the radar of some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain, after a series of dazzling performances at FIFA World Club Cup last year, and further stand out displays at this year’s African Cup of Nations. Msakni's presence at the former tournament came after his club, Esperance of Tunisia, won last season's African Champions League, triumphing over Morocco's Wydad Casablanca 1-0 in the two-legged final.
Msakni's close control, mazy dribbling skills and searing turn of pace marked him out as arguably the finest performer in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and his goal in Tunisia's opening fixture against Morocco was quite possibly the strike of the tournament. Though that claim is up for debate, it's almost universally accepted that it is only a matter of time before Msakni's talents secure the youngster a lucrative move, and the prospect of seeing him playing regularly in Europe is as exciting as it is likely.
Though stories linking Msakni with a move to Arsenal have cooled in recent weeks, Paris Saint-Germain are known to remain keen. Ligue 1 rivals Lille and Bordeaux could well provide competition for his signature however.
Msakni's close control, mazy dribbling skills and searing turn of pace marked him out as arguably the finest performer in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea
Younes Belhanda (Morocco)
Another French-born player on the list, but twenty-one year old Younes Belhanda has plenty to distinguish himself. Despite his slight appearance, the diminutive attacking midfielder actually started his career as a defender, before his natural touch and creativity saw him advance further and further up the pitch as his career developed. On the books of high flying Montpellier since the age of thirteen, Belhanda has come through the ranks of the club, becoming a pivotal figure in this season's title challenge.
Though Morocco endured a torrid African Cup of Nations, Belhanda was a bright light, illuminating his country's final game, a 1-0 win (Morocco's only victory at tournament) over Niger and he remains his country's great hope for future success. Hugely versatile, with an eye for goal and a defence splitting pass, but deceptively strong and able to operate at the back, Belhanda is as close to the complete player as you are likely to find. Should Montpellier's inspirational season not come to fruition, there will be no shortage of suitors for Belhanda, and there is nothing to suggest that the number ten is incapable of performing at the very highest level.
Heavily linked with a £7 million move to Manchester City, the Premier League appears to be Belhanda's most likely destination, particularly if Eden Hazard, Manchester City's other big target, elects to join Chelsea instead. Liverpool and Arsenal are also rumoured to be interested.
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