Manchester United have reportedly held "secret talks" with Borussia Dortmund star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, despite the club's insistence the forward is not for sale.
That's according to the Daily Mirror's John Cross, who reported the Red Devils have had contact with the 26-year-old's representatives and are willing to offer more than £60 million, if that's what it takes to land his services.
Per the report, the lack of clarity surrounding manager Louis van Gaal's future and his potential replacement isn't stopping United from chasing transfer targets. And despite the club's disappointing 2015-16 campaign, the allure of playing for the iconic club should still work in their favour.
The Gabon international has enjoyed a sensational 2015-16 campaign so far, scoring goals in bunches, per OptaFranz:
35 - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his 35th goal in all comps 2015-16, tying Robert Lewandowski for most among all BL players. Machine.— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) March 17, 2016
Aubameyang needed some time to make good on his tantalizing potential, but he has now established himself as one of the most prolific strikers in football the last two seasons and will be a popular target once the transfer window opens.
Per Cross, Dortmund maintain they have no intention of selling their top star, who has almost single-handedly carried their Bundesliga title challenge at times this season. CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke previously told the Sun's Antony Kastrinakis Aubameyang won't be on the move this summer:
The position is clear. Auba plays for Borussia Dortmund and the next years he will play at Borussia Dortmund. No question. There is no get-out clause. Money is a thing that can solve all other things. But it’s not realistic.
Clubs of the Premier League have a lot of money. But so much as to get Aubameyang? It’s a little bit difficult. It’s not question of money. We have money. We have no Sheikh. No Roman Abramovich. But we have money. We don’t need money. We need success in playing football.
Dortmund has become a top destination for young talent in the last few years, and their new status makes it easier for them to keep hold of their established stars. But they've seen a number of high-profile players depart the club as well, with both Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze joining rivals Bayern Munich.
The duo clearly felt the move to Bavaria presented the next step in their careers, highlighting how difficult it is to stop a player from leaving once he has made up his mind. And Aubameyang has already indicated he will be leaving the club in the coming years, as he recently revealed he promised his grandfather he'd one day play for Real Madrid, per beIN Sports (h/t Marca).
Here's a look at some of the best goals of his Bundesliga career:
Blessed with incredible pace and instincts, Aubameyang projects as a star striker regardless of the league he plays in. Dortmund's wide-open, counter-attacking system fits his playing style like a glove, but he has enough talent to continue scoring goals in other systems as well.
He's become more adept at scoring poachers' goals and using his head in the last few years, two things any Premier League striker has to be able to do. Pure speedsters like Arsenal's Theo Walcott can struggle against some of the more physical defenders the league has to offer, but Aubameyang has the skill set to overcome those challenges.
Per Bleacher Report UK, he seems to be getting better every season as well:
The scary thing is, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang keeps getting better. 💯 pic.twitter.com/bzS3si0vY5— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) March 17, 2016
Despite the emergence of young starlet Marcus Rashford and the presence of Anthony Martial, United are expected to add another, more experienced striker to the squad during the summer.
Aubameyang is the type of world-class option any club desires, and if he were to come to Old Trafford, it would take some of the pressure off the shoulders of Rashford and Martial, allowing them to continue their development at their own pace.
But landing the former AC Milan ace won't be easy. United might not even make the UEFA Champions League next season, and while Old Trafford will always attract star players, regardless of the club's fortunes, United may struggle to convince Aubameyang to join them out of all of the clubs that will undoubtedly be interested.
He already made it clear he wants to play for Real Madrid, so if Los Blancos get involved, the race could well be over in a hurry. And that's assuming there will be a race at all, as a departure from Dortmund is far from certain.