Premier League teams have been poaching the best talent from Ligue 1 for decades now. Some, like Arsenal, do it well; others, like Liverpool, not so much. There’s no doubt that, despite the French league’s inferior reputation to its English, Spanish, German or Italian counterparts, it has, and continues to, produce some of the most talented players the game has seen. The latest player who has been linked with a move across the channel is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Saint-Etienne’s star forward, whose form over the past two seasons will have alerted most teams on the continent - and has attracted the interest of Aston Villa and Newcastle United.
Still only 23, it’s easy to see why the Gabonese forward has piqued the internet of English clubs as he has the perfect build for the Premier League; he’s tall, strong and quick, which isn’t a guarantee that a striker will be successful on these shores, but it’s a good base to build from. Under the tutelage of Christophe Galtier, he has developed from a frustrating winger cum forward who failed to break through at Milan, in to an exciting, prolific striker - and has spearheaded ASSE’s impressive revival over the past few seasons from relegation candidates in to contenders for European places.
Aubameyang joined the AC Milan primavera side in 2007 as his dad, Pierre Snr, is a scout for the Rossoneri (his two brothers, Catalina and Willy, were also on the books at Milan). He was loaned out to Dijon in Ligue 2 in the 08/09 season, and then spent the following season at Lille on loan. He hadn’t convinced Milan to give him a chance so was loaned out again at the start of the 10/11 season, this time to Monaco. After six months at Monaco, Aubameyang was loaned to AS Saint-Étienne in January 2011 until the end of this season. He did enough to convince ASSE to extend the loan for another season, and the deal was made permanent deal last December for around €2m.
As with many players who started playing one position only to adapt to a different role once they break in to the first team, he brings the best of both worlds together. He plays well as a lone striker, particularly last season, but this season he has often been played up top with Brandao, the towering Brazilian ex-Marseille forward, and has played as more of a support striker, using his experience playing as a winger to effectively work the channels and exploit the space between full-back and centre-back. He creates goals as well as scoring them (24 goals and 11 assists for Saint-Etienne since the start of last season, as well as 3 goals and 3 assists for Gabon in the African Cup of Nations).
It is surprising that he is still a relatively unknown commodity despite his productivity over the past eighteen months. It is no surprise, then, to see Newcastle United linked with him as he’s very much a Graham Carr signing; a player who has produced in a quality league who is then procured for a sickeningly reasonable fee and goes on to prove his class. As much as he deserves credit for unearthing Cheikh Tiote, players like Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cissé were established players, yet somehow were bought cheap. Still, Newcastle United were smart enough to do the deals quickly and have reaped the rewards. He’d be a fine replacement for Demba Ba if he does leave in January.
Aston Villa, who have also been linked with him, are desperately in need of goals. Darren Bent and Gabby Agbonlahor have been misfiring, and their summer signing Christian Benteke, along with youngster Andreas Weimann, are yet to really establish themselves as regular goalscorers. They do have mobile forwards, but Aubameyang would offer a more constant goal threat and has proven he is capable of playing up top by himself or alongside someone else. In theory, he and Benteke would really test defenders with their pace and movement, but, with the greatest of respect to Villa, he should be attracting the interest of clubs in a much stronger position than they are.
As Aubameyang’s stock continues to rise, so will his price tag. The fee banded about in the press is around £10m, which would be a bargain for someone like him who will only get better. He’s good enough to play for any of the top clubs as far as I’m concerned – I’d be delighted if Liverpool bought him as he’d be a great foil for Suarez – but if Aston Villa or Newcastle United can get in there and sign him in January they’d be striking gold. Whilst, if his form in France transferred to the Premier League it is unlikely he would stay at either club for long, he would be sold on for a nice profit. The man who this season pulled out a Spiderman mask when celebrating his goal against Rennes could really be a goalscoring superhero for whoever signs him.