Fresh off one of the better seasons in club history, Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund walked into this year's summer transfer window with an extremely uncertain future.
In 2012-13, nearly everything went to plan. While they were unable to three-peat in the Bundesliga table—Bayern Munch's dominant season unseated them—Dortmund found massive success in European play. They made a thrilling run through the Champions League, pushing their way through Spanish sides Malaga and Real Madrid to make the final.
Again, they were unseated by Bayern Munich. Perhaps for the first time in history, it was conceivable to say the world's two best teams belonged to Germany and Bundesliga. The two clubs stood on top of the world in the most prestigious tournament, at least giving those who spend so much time touting the Premier League some pause.
But while Bayern have spent their summer acquiring assets, Borussia have had a summer full of nervousness about their roster composition.
Much of the white-knuckled worry surrounded Robert Lewandowski. The 24-year-old superstar striker's name has been out on the transfer market almost since the Bundesliga season ended, becoming one of the world's most sought-after talents.
He's been linked to an overwhelming number of European sides, both inside Bundesliga and out. Along with Edinson Cavani, the chase for Lewandowski has become arguably the most talked-about impending transfer in the world. He's going somewhere.
Just no one knows where quite yet.
On Thursday, Borussia Dortmund made their move—one that seems like a pre-preparation for the imminent departure from Lewandowski. According to The Guardian, the club made the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from St-Etienne a done deal. There have been no official terms to the agreement released, but Aubameyang is locked into the club until 2018—a key for the club.
Sporting director Michael Zorc spoke on the signing in an official statement.
"We are very pleased that in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang we were able to sign a player we really wanted," Zorc said. "He is offensively very versatile, has a lot of pace in his game, is a threat in front of goal and will provide us with more options."
The 24-year-old Aubameyang was an underratedly hot name on the open market. He drew interest from Premier League sides like Newcastle United, but the deals ultimately went nowhere. It's very likely that Aubameyang looked at the two situations in Newcastle and Borussia, then chose the one where European play was the likeliest. Newcastle are a fine Premier League club. They're also pushing against a glass ceiling as their competition engages in a nuclear arms race of talent acquisition.
From a Borussia perspective, they are undoubtedly hoping Aubameyang develops into a player that keeps their club elite. Borussia are in the midst of their finest run in club history. They won the Bundesliga title in 2010-11 and 2011-12, then finished second behind an all-in Bayern Munich last season.
But with all of the departures this summer—both already happening and coming in the future—there was some understandable trepidation about the future. Before this recent run of success, Borussia Dortmund had played themselves into being Bundesliga's perpetual disappointment. They had a run of seven straight seasons where they finished fifth or worse in the table.
Aubameyang isn't the Second Coming or anything. But he's talented enough to put fan fears to rest that a second coming of putridity is oncoming.
As noted by Zorc, the offensive versatility of Aubameyang's game will be key. It's very likely that he'll wind up as a long-term Lewandowski replacement, fitting in perfectly as a primary ball-scorer. Aubameyang has increased his goal total each of the past two seasons, scoring 19 in 2012-13. He was one of the more respected strikers in Ligue 1, where he thrived despite not being surrounded with world-class talent.
That said, merely slotting Aubameyang in for Lewandowski is not the only option. Borussia Dortmund's first major departure of the 2013 summer transfer window was Mario Gotze, who jumped ship to Bayern Munich in a blockbuster move in April. Bayern's €37 million bid was the greatest in German history, one that set off this dark cloud of worry in Dortmund. The 21-year-old Gotze is an unflappably talented player in the midfield, so adept at creating for himself at teammates that Prince's "When Doves Cry" starts blaring in fans' heads whenever he touches the ball.
Oh, that's just me? OK. Well, he's a very good at kicking a soccer ball at a soccer net and very good at helping others in their efforts to kick a soccer ball into a soccer net.
Though not quite on a "Doves Cry" level, Aubameyang would fit in just fine as an attacking midfielder should Borussia choose to go that route. He's an adept passer and knows how to control pace, flashing a quickness and recognition of situations that few possess. Last season Aubameyang had nine assists in 36 Ligue 1 starts, putting him among the best shot-creators in France. It's impossible to tell just how well that will translate over to Bundesliga or to European play, but it's hard to bet against him.
Either way, this was a move Borussia had to make. They're getting a talented player who can at least be a decent facsimile for their two biggest departures. And with the money they're recouping from Gotze and the haul they'll see from Lewandowski, it's safe to say Borussia isn't done reloading their talent cupboard.
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