It was a season of two halves for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Borussia Dortmund last year. He began the campaign in explosive form for his new side, but he had become something of a bit-part player by the season’s close. Will the coming campaign begin as the last one ended, or can the Gabon frontman establish himself as a first-choice player at BVB?
Following his summer switch from Saint-Etienne, the Gabonese striker made an explosive start to life in the Bundesliga, proving that he could make the transition from France to Germany. He made an impact in his very first match, entering the pitch 70 minutes into the German Super Cup against Bayern Munich and creating an assist.
Dortmund went on to win the game 4-2, gaining some revenge (a tiny measure at least) for the Champions League final defeat they endured at the hands of their rivals some months beforehand.
On his Bundesliga debut against Augsburg two weeks later, a star was born.
Aubameyang started the match, operating on the left, and scored with his first shot on goal. Two further goals followed, as the forward ended any vestiges of Augsburg optimism and—in the first-ever appearance by a Gabonese player in the German top flight—left an impression that few would forget in a hurry.
Dortmund won 4-0, but the biggest story perhaps was that the Rhine club had acquired themselves a genuine superstar.
Bundesliga.com noted Aubameyang's priceless union of speed of mind and speed of feet, a quality that the African player displayed for much of 2013 and the first month of 2014. He was able to outpace almost any other player in the league, but he also had the quickness of thought to add devastation to his raw abilities.
The forward was replaced with ten minutes to go, receiving a standing ovation. One suspected that many more would follow.
He was again an influential presence in the middle of September, as Dortmund thrashed Hamburg. Here, operating on the right-hand side, the former Milan man scored twice and contributed an assist as the former European champions picked up a 6-2 victory.
Goals would follow against TSV Munich 1860, Schalke and VFB Stuttgart before the middle of November. Before the year was up, Aubameyang had also found the net against the likes of Hoffenheim, Mainz and in the Champions League against Napoli.
2014 began much as 2013 had ended. Aubameyang found the net against Eintracht Frankfurt three times in two (consecutive) games, winning the man of the match award on the first occasion. He also bagged a brace against Eintracht Braunschweig, making the difference in a 2-1 victory.
However, following his pair of goals in Dortmund’s 4-0 triumph over Eintracht Frankfurt in the middle of February, his tangible contribution to the team’s season slowed. He contributed assists in high-scoring victories against Hertha Berlin, Bayern and Stuttgart, but he didn’t score again and was impotent to prevent Jurgen Klopp’s men being eliminated by Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals.
It was no disgrace, but that, along with Munich’s procession to the Bundesliga title, meant that the season largely rolled into irrelevance as the spring got into swing.
Aubameyang was only given seven minutes or so of the DFB-Pokal Final against Bayern Munich in the middle of May. It was a sign, perhaps, of the forward’s declining influence in the eyes of Klopp.
He played the full 90 minutes on only nine occasions in the Bundesliga all season, and seven of his last eight appearances in all competitions were brief cameos in the dying stages of games.
All in all, he made 21 Bundesliga starts (and 11 substitute appearances) and scored 13 goals. It’s not at all bad for a debut campaign, and Anthony Chapman of the Express appears off the mark when he wrote that the forward “failed to break into Jurgen Klopp's first-team plans.”
He ended the season in 11th place in the top-scorer charts, although it’s perhaps important to note that he started at least five games less than all but one of the 10 players ahead of him.
Nonetheless, there was a sense that the Gabonese international didn’t quite realise the potential he showed earlier in the season.
One reason might well be the ongoing presence of Robert Lewandowski. The Polish hitman remained at Dortmund last season, and despite the wanderlust that had threatened to undermine his time at the club, he was still Klopp’s go-to forward.
The Pole scored 20 goals in 31 Bundesliga starts and an impressive six goals in nine starts in the Champions League.
With Lewandowski at the club, it was inevitable that Aubameyang would largely be shoehorned into a supporting role. The forward’s versatility, ability to play on either flank and lead the line make him a valuable asset, but his goal return would perhaps have been greater had he been the focal point of the team’s attacks.
Reports have indicated that Dortmund might be willing to cash in on their forward after only one season.
However, the aforementioned Chapman, writing with the Express earlier in the summer, quoted Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke denying that the 25-year old would be sold:
Why should he be leaving? He has just played here for one season. We did not believe he would be put up (in the team) from the start in every match for our club. We have an immense competition for places in the first team, this was impossible for him. We are content with Aubameyang, he has a contract left at our club.
One suspects that the best is still to come for the forward, and that this season might be the one when Dortmund truly reap the rewards of the investment they made a year ago. With Lewandowski gone, it may be that Aubameyang is primed to lead the line more regularly for Jurgen Klopp’s side. With greater access to the sublime creative talents of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang has the capacity to improve his goal return.
The club have replaced Lewandowski by recruiting Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos—both players have the potential to shine in the Bundesliga and represent tangible competition for the Gabon international.
The fact that the African Cup of Nations comes around again in the beginning of 2015 also doesn't help. Should Gabon qualify (and they are in a reasonably friendly qualification group), Aubameyang will doubtless be called upon for the tournament in Morocco.
Players much better than he have had their domestic league seasons derailed by a trip to Africa to contest the AFCON, and this may be a genuine concern for Klopp.
Nonetheless, Aubameyang is older than Immobile and arguably more established than Ramos. He can expect to enjoy the manager’s faith ahead of the other two, at least at the beginning of the coming campaign. As noted by Bleacher Report’s Stefan Bienkowski, Aubameyang and Immobile have already combined well in pre-season play (scoring three goals between them in the opening 30 minutes against Rot-Weiss Essen) and should flourish alongside Ramos, Marco Reus and Ji Dong-Won.
His job now is to demonstrate that his early Bundesliga form was the true mark of his quality. If he can do this, then we may be looking at one of the most devastating forwards in the German league over the coming campaign.
Stats via WhoScored.com