Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s abode had been burgled and his car stolen, but he was not activity to let it blemish his evening.
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It was April 20, 2013, and AS Saint-Etienne’s players were in Paris advancing to fly home afterwards assault Rennes 1-0 in the final of the Coupe de la Ligue. It was the club’s aboriginal above honour aback 1981, and the atmosphere was understandably joyous. Aubameyang did not appetite actual apropos to adulteration his mood.
But this was not a case of an obscenely affluent footballer blithely autograph off an big-ticket asset in the adeptness it could calmly be replaced. Aubameyang has a absolute affection for cars, and the one that had been taken from alfresco his home in Fraisses, southwest of Saint-Etienne, was his pride and joy.
The car was a soft-top Aston Martin DB9 Mansory in “crocodile-skin” green, customised with Aubameyang’s band cardinal (No. 7) on the auto and dashboard. He had acquiescently apparent it off in a video filmed for Saint-Etienne’s YouTube approach beforehand that season.
“I’m advantageous to be able to buy it for myself, so I accomplish the best of it,” he explained, a little shyly. “I’m a fan of cars.”
The car would be apparent by badge afterwards the afterward day in Saint-Etienne’s southern suburbs, the alone accident to it a collapsed tyre. Aubameyang was not to apperceive that he would be reunited with it so swiftly, though, and for his team-mates, his acknowledgment to the account of its annexation was a mark of the man.
“Anyone would accept been affronted about that. But he was so blessed we’d won that it didn’t absolutely affect him,” above Saint-Etienne apostle Jonathan Brison tells Bleacher Report. “It sums up his personality. It could accept blah the evening, but it didn’t affect him at all.”
The 2013 Coupe de la Ligue success was the consummate moment of Aubameyang’s time at Saint-Etienne and served as a absolute adieu advanced of his move to Borussia Dortmund that summer.
Five years on and accepting swapped Dortmund chicken for Arsenal red, he is recognised as one of the best advancing players in apple football. But two-and-a-half years earlier, aback he aboriginal set bottom at Saint-Etienne, his approaching looked alarmingly uncertain.
Aubameyang was 21 aback he abutting Saint-Etienne on accommodation in January 2011, and his career appeared to be drifting.
He had been on the books at AC Milan—where his father, Pierre, formed as a scout—but never played a first-team game, and alternating accommodation spells had been underwhelming. Although he denticulate 10 goals while on accommodation at Ligue 2 ancillary Dijon in the 2008-09 season, the footfall up to the top bank had accepted a challenge. He spent the 2009-10 attack at Lille and the aboriginal bisected of the afterward division at Monaco, but he performed fitfully, scoring alone two goals for anniversary club.
“He’d already wandered about a lot, and it’s never a acceptable assurance aback a amateur changes club all the time,” says Yves Verriere, who has spent 30 years advertisement on Saint-Etienne for bounded bi-weekly Le Progres. “When he acclimatized at Saint-Etienne, he wasn’t a amateur with a big reputation.”
Aubameyang’s aboriginal half-season at Saint-Etienne offered alone aside promise. Admitting lightning quick, he was acquainted to abridgement accord in action amends areas. He denticulate two goals in 14 appearances, and the club’s decision-makers harboured doubts about whether to extend his accommodation into the afterward campaign.
The summer of 2011 would prove a axis point. In conversations with his father, who was a above able player, and Saint-Etienne drillmaster Christophe Galtier, Aubameyang came to acknowledge the conduct and adherence appropriate to accomplish it at the accomplished level. He spent the summer training, and aback the aggregation appear aback for pre-season, he looked a altered player.
“After a anarchic aboriginal bristles months, we didn’t apperceive if he should break with us or not,” Galtier told L’Equipe in April 2017.
“But he showed absolute admiration to stay—for example, spending all his holidays in Saint-Etienne. He capital to do a abounding year at one club. I batten to his dad a lot and I followed the admonition of my presidents by giving him accession chance. From the aboriginal day that he acclimatized at training, he wasn’t the aforementioned man. He’d become a war machine.”
Fabien Lemoine abutting Saint-Etienne from Rennes in August 2011, a ages afterwards Les Verts had agreed to booty Aubameyang on accommodation from Milan for accession season, and he was addled by the forward’s levels of application.
“He formed on his cutting every day, in advanced of goal, demography shots,” Lemoine tells B/R. “He knew that in adjustment to realise his ambitions of activity abundant higher, there were things he bare to improve.
“When I arrived, he had a acceptability for actuality actual fast and for actuality added of a advanced player. A amateur with a lot of energy, a adamantine worker, but in no way did I see him as a striker who could account endless of goals anniversary season.”
On the season’s aperture day, Aubameyang addled the champ for Saint-Etienne at Bordeaux. He denticulate at Sochaux and Rennes and again claimed accession champ at Evian in October. By the time his brace had salvaged a 2-2 draw at Brest in aboriginal December, the club’s admiral had apparent enough. Three canicule afore Christmas, a abounding alteration was agreed and he active a four-year contract.
Aubameyang absent a ages of the division due to his captivation in the Africa Cup of Nations with joint-host nation Gabon in January. He blown the absolute amends as Gabon absent a shootout to Mali in the quarter-finals in Libreville and was led from the acreage in tears by his father, yet he bound put the disappointment abaft him.
A anniversary afterwards his amends heartbreak, he netted the champ for Saint-Etienne at Toulouse. Afterwards that month, he denticulate his aboriginal career hat-trick in a 4-2 win over Lorient. Accepting started the division on the flanks, he accomplished it as the team’s capital striker. A acknowledgment of 18 goals from 38 appearances saw him called Saint-Etienne’s Amateur of the Season.
“The ‘click’ was the aplomb he got from scoring goals,” says Lemoine. “He was already absolutely adequate with anybody in the squad, so with the aplomb he got from scoring goals, he became our No. 1 advancing player.”
In the alteration room, Aubameyang addled up abutting friendships with adolescent assiduously Max-Alain Gradel and Bakary Sako and axial midfielder Josuha Guilavogui. On the pitch, Saint-Etienne’s bunched actualization and counter-attacking approach adapted him to a T.
“We had a actualization of comedy that ill-fitted him perfectly,” adds Lemoine, whose slide-rule passes from midfield consistently beatific Aubameyang scampering into amplitude abaft action defences.
“Our adventurous was based on acceptable the brawl aback and accepting advanced actual quickly. We didn’t alike allegation to be super-precise with our passes in behind. He was so quick that we had a huge allowance of error.”
Happy off the angle and added able on it, Aubameyang had fatigued added action from the accession of his aboriginal child, Curtys, who accomplice Alysha Behague gave bearing to on the eve of the season.
“One affair that clicked for me was my son, who was built-in in August 2011,” Aubameyang told the club’s YouTube channel. “It was added action for me. Today I say to myself that I allegation to assignment so that he’ll be OK tomorrow. Aback you accept a child, you accept responsibilities.”
Aubameyang’s additional abounding division at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard was alike added successful.
With 19 goals, he accomplished joint-second to Paris Saint-Germain’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Ligue 1 scoring archive and was awarded the Prix Marc-Vivien Foe as the league’s outstanding African player. In accession to their Coupe de la Ligue triumph, Saint-Etienne accomplished fifth in Ligue 1, which was the club’s joint-best agreement aback 1988.
Aubameyang had angry on the goals in 2011-12, and the afterward season, he angry on the style.
In a 4-0 win over Brest in August, he denticulate two goals and had a duke in two more, briefly abrogation the pitch—Gareth Bale-style—as he motored down the larboard abut to tee up a ambition for Romain Hamouma in the aboriginal half.
Against Bastia the afterward month, he leapt into the air at the abreast column to catechumen a cantankerous from Brison with a beauteous kung-fu volley. His clever backheel advance adjoin Montpellier in February was voted Ligue 1’s Ambition of the Month.
French football admirers were by now acclimatized to Aubameyang’s busy Mohican hairstyles and the somersaults he would accomplish afterwards scoring, and he acquainted added assured about giving aperture to his artistic impulses.
After scoring adjoin Rennes in October, he acclaimed by donning a Spider-Man affectation in honour of above Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Jeremie Janot, who already wore a Spider-Man-inspired kit for a adventurous adjoin Istres in 2005.
When Saint-Etienne came out to balmy up advanced of the derby adjoin Lyon in December, Aubameyang was cutting a brace of customised Nike Vapor boots encrusted with 4,000 Swarovski crystals and account €3,000. “You’re a madman,” Lemoine told him.
Aubameyang’s team-mates generally bidding abruptness at his stylistic flights of fancy, such as aback he angry up for a television actualization on Canal looking like a Michael Jackson accolade act, but there was account abaft the ribbing.
“He had this extroverted, absurd ancillary and I anticipate that was a assurance of his self-confidence,” says Lemoine.
“He had altered cars to the blow of us. He had altered clothes to the blow of us. He had a actualization that was his own. But he was a abundant guy, who was absolutely committed to activity in the alteration room. If you asked him for anything, he’d try to help.”
Aubameyang’s signature achievement came in an abroad adventurous at approaching champions PSG in November 2012.
A year-and-a-half into the Qatari era, PSG boasted the brand of Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Marco Verratti and Javier Pastore. To Aubameyang’s dismay, Galtier put him on the bench, but afterwards advancing on in the 52nd minute, he affected Mamadou Sakho to put through his own net three account afterwards and again calmly slotted in what accepted to be the acceptable ambition in a 2-1 victory.
“He [Galtier] put Aubameyang amid the substitutes, and he didn’t booty it actual well,” Brison recalled. “Galtier batten to him, and aback Aubame went on, he was decisive. He could accept sulked or aloof played for himself, but he went on and afflicted the game. The accord was actual good, and there was alternate assurance amid them. I anticipate that abysmal bottomward Aubame recognises that Christophe showed him a lot of trust. And he repaid him.”
A tough-guy apostle angry absolutist coach, Galtier was the aboriginal administrator to accompany the best out of Aubameyang. The striker paid a aglow accolade to his above drillmaster aback Galtier appear he would be abrogation Saint-Etienne in May 2017, describing him on Instagram as “more than a coach.”
The accession of beefcake Brazilian striker Brandao above-mentioned to the alpha of the 2012-13 division prompted Galtier (now in allegation at Lille) to about-face Aubameyang to the larboard abut of his 4-3-3, yet the brace formed a actual able partnership, with Brandao’s backbone and aeriform accomplishment proving an ideal accompaniment to Aubameyang’s clip and finishing ability.
They accumulated to match-winning aftereffect in the 18th minute of April’s Coupe de la Ligue final adjoin Rennes at Stade de France, Aubameyang bridge from the larboard with the alfresco of his appropriate bottom for Brandao to advance home from abutting range.
The ambition brought Aubameyang the aboriginal bays of his career. It would booty added than a vanishing Aston Martin to booty the appearance off that.
Aubameyang’s constant acceptance with Saint-Etienne’s admirers could be gauged aback he alternate to Stade Geoffroy-Guichard for a alms bout in April 2015.
By then, about two seasons into his Dortmund career, he denticulate a hat-trick and accustomed a admiring accession from the home crowd, the amphitheater apostle barking “Pierre-Emerick…!” afterwards anniversary of his goals and the green-clad abutment roaring “AUBAMEYANG!” in reply. It was aloof like old times.
“He larboard actual acceptable memories here. Because he was at the agent of the club’s rebirth,” says Verriere.
“When he came to comedy in the FIFA Bout Adjoin Poverty, the acceptable he got was crazy. The legends of Saint-Etienne are the players from ’76 who got to the European Cup final, but amid the added contempo players, he’s captivated in appropriate esteem.”
In the aboriginal three seasons of first-team football, Aubameyang averaged 0.16 goals per game. Aback the alpha of that transformative additional division at Saint-Etienne, that amount stands at 0.61. With Arsenal, he currently has the best minutes-per-goal statistics in the Premier League era.
At 29, Aubameyang still has a few seasons of top-level football advanced of him. Wherever he ends up and whatever he goes on to achieve, one affair is for certain: It all started for absolute at Saint-Etienne.
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