Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: African Cup of Nations Unearths New Gem

Yoosof Farah@@YoosofFarahSenior Writer IIIFebruary 6, 2012

Image courtesy of Yahoo! Sports Canada
Image courtesy of Yahoo! Sports Canada

He may have missed the penalty that cost Gabon a place in the semi-finals, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has emerged as the star of the African Cup of Nations.

The 22-year-old winger has lit up the tournament this year with a series of scintillating displays, as he almost single-handedly pulled Gabon to the brink of a historic first-ever African Cup of Nations semi-final.

He scored in each of the three group games—netting the winner in a 1-0 win over Tunisia—and made two assists, one for Daniel Cousin in the 3-2 win over Morocco and the other for Eric Mouloungui's goal in a 1-1 draw with Mali, which eventually saw FC Barcelona's Seydou Keita convert the winning spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out.

Aubameyang was the heartbeat of virtually every Gabon attack throughout the tournament, and he was the key player for The Panthers.

Just before the tournament started, Aubameyang had sealed a permanent move to Ligue 1 side AS Saint-Etienne from Serie A giants AC Milan.

Having joined Milan's Primavera side in January 2007, the former France U21 international did the rounds in the French second division and top-flight, taking in loan spells at Dijon FCO, Lille OSC, AS Monaco and Saint-Etienne.

After still failing to win a place in the Rossoneri first-team, Aubameyang went back on-loan to Les Verts at the start of the 2011-12 season before sealing a permanent switch just prior to leaving for African Cup of Nations duty.

And there will be two things haunting AC Milan about the transfer.

Firstly, how did they let go a player who's now blossoming into one of the best young talents in the game?

And secondly, why did they sell him for just €1.8 million?

Even before he went away with Gabon, it was clear this kid had major potential and was a vital part of the Saint-Etienne team.

Before the tournament, he started all 19 league games for the club, tallying a team-high six goals and four assists.

He also won three "Man of the Match" awards and hit 23 key passes at a rate of 1.2 per game.

Aubameyang was showing all the right signs of developing into a huge talent. Why AC Milan let him go is anyone's guess.

To those who watch the game in France, it's been clear that Aubameyang has potential. 

But even devoted Ligue 1 followers might not have predicted just how big an impact Aubameyang would make on the tournament, especially given his Gabon team were ranked 91st in the world and 20th in Africa before the start of the ACN.

The African Cup of Nations unearthed a bigger gem than people perhaps thought it would in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

In the competition, co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, the versatile winger displayed his full attacking arsenal, often combining pace, power and accuracy with devastating effect.

In all the games he played, he regularly out-paced the full-back and provided the skill and trickery—and the hair—of a player like Neymar to cut his way into the penalty area.

He also has a lethal shot on him, and he can hit the ball with enough power to leave a goalkeeper rooted in his spot. With just a bit more accuracy he'd be one of the most clinical finishers around.

On top of that, Aubameyang also has an uncharacteristically refined finishing technique for a fast-paced all-action winger.

As he proved with his volleyed goal against Morocco, Aubameyang knows where the sweet spot of the ball is and can adjust his body to the place the ball anywhere in the net.

And it's not just in attack where this tricky winger makes his impact, as he's also a dab hand in defence where he uses his pace effectively to track back and win tackles.

This season for Saint-Etienne he's won 28 tackles and chipped in with 18 interceptions.

Overall, the Saint-Etienne and Gabon star is a highly talented player with great potential.

Clearly AC Milan didn't think that potential was good enough to win Serie A or UEFA Champions League titles.

But after seeing his performances in the African Cup of Nations, maybe the Rossoneri have realized that that potential was probably a lot bigger than they thought.