With his bashful grin juxtaposed against some spectacular footwear—on this occasion, yellow sequins depicting a Batman logo on one trainer and his own autograph on the other—Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang perfectly displayed the two sides to himself during his appearance on French TV station beIN Sport’s Le Club du Dimanche this week. An understated presence off the pitch is an electrifying one on it.
Beneath both the smile and the bling is a steely determination to win. It is this sentiment that persuaded Aubameyang to turn his back on the promise of Russian riches and the English Premier League to join ambitious Dortmund in the summer.
As befits a player who recorded a time of 3.7 seconds for a 30m sprint on arrival at Dortmund’s pre-season training camp in Switzerland, according to Sport 360 (faster than Usain Bolt started his world-record 100m run in Berlin in 2009), he has wasted no time settling in north-west Germany. Rather than spend months in a hotel, the 24-year-old snapped up a mansion in the region and moved in with his family within weeks of signing.
Aubameyang was quickly on message too. After scoring a hat-trick on his Bundesliga debut at Augsburg, he told L’Equipe (article in French) that “I couldn’t have dreamed of anything cooler,” a line straight out of the Jurgen Klopp phrasebook.
The close-knit, vibrant atmosphere created by Klopp is something that has been vital for Aubameyang’s speedy adaptation. He feels the same youthful buzz around the changing room that he did at previous club Saint Etienne, where he scored 21 goals and made another 15 in all competitions last season.
Aubameyang aims to develop the same close relationship with Klopp as he did with Les Verts coach Christophe Galtier. “He’s someone who’s transformed me,” he enthused about Galtier (article in French) while receiving Radio France Internationale’s Marc-Vivien Foe prize for Ligue 1’s best African player in May. “He made me realise that I’m a versatile player. I’ll never forget that.”
There is no doubt that the Saint-Etienne experience rounded Aubameyang, with Dortmund now having a player who can play on either flank or through the centre. Yet his life experiences have also made him open to change.
His father, Pierre Aubameyang, moved around France, to Colombia and Italy during his own playing career, making his three sons culturally adaptable and multilingual. He is still a scout for Milan, where Pierre-Emerick and elder brother Willy both began their careers.
Aubameyang and his father have “almost a brotherly relationship,” he told beIN Sport in Sunday night’s interview, as close friends. It was Pierre who was first on the pitch to comfort his tearful son after his penalty shoot-out miss for Gabon in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final against Mali.
Family matters a great deal to Aubameyang. It was after extensive discussion with his family that he finally chose to opt to play for Gabon internationally; he was born in France and (as he often says with a grin) could have opted for Spain, from where his mother hails.
It looks like he has found another family at Dortmund. As hard-working in defence as he is explosive in attack—he already has seven Bundesliga goals in eight starts—Aubameyang will provide counter-attacking danger down the right to Arsenal, whether as starter or pinch-hitter.
In his early days at the club, his team-mates jokingly nicknamed Aubameyang "Audigier," after French designer Christian, on account of his bold sartorial choices. He is ready to show the Champions League that he is as much substance as style.