Aubameyang-Gabon Relationship Status: It's Complicated
Aubameyang-Gabon Relationship Status: It's Complicated
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is this year’s highest ranked African on the ESPN World Fame 100, coming in at a respectable 67th, but Gabon's football superstar has courted controversy of late
The striker's on-field excellence for Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund is contrasted with his perceived lack of loyalty to the Gabon national team. Kwesé caught up with Gabonese journalist Freddhy Koula, a RFI consultant and Canal+ Afrique columnist, to discuss the French-born striker.
"Aubameyang is for the Gabonese what Samuel Eto'o is in Cameroon, what [Didier] Drogba is in the Ivory Coast, and what George Weah is in Liberia." Koula said, in an interview conducted in French.
“Today, he's the ambassador of our country. He's among the greatest goal-scorers on the planet, and that can only make Gabonese people proud.” Auba - as Aubameyang is known -has scored 23 goals in 56 appearances for Gabon since his 2009 debut. He netted Gabon's only goal at the 2012 Olympics and is his country's leading goal-scorer. In the 2016/17 Bundesliga season he scored 31 goals, the most in over 40 years.
Koula charts the on-off love affair between Gabon and Auba: "For a few years he was the summer hit. However, in recent years the relationship between Aubameyang and the public has cooled a little, for several reasons. We've criticised his motivation with the national side, who he has captained since 2015. And while he's been decisive for his clubs, he has been less so for Gabon, with nine goals in nearly four years."
It seems Auba's commitment to the national cause is not what it used to be, "We've criticised him for choosing when he comes to play for the national side, to come and go from the squad when he wants."
Journalist Biggie Malouana of the Gabon Review believes that last year Aubameyang's uncertain club future led to his controversial decision not to represent his country against Zambia in an AFCON qualifier in June. Could Aubameyang have "divested transfer responsibilities to his father", as Malouana puts it, and done more to help Gabon qualify?
Pierre Aubameyang, a former Gabon international, serves as his famous son's agent. As Malouana explains, "Having a status apart from the rest of the squad, Aubameyang can afford to [snub] the national side without being worried."
But can the national squad afford to snub him? The Panthers, as the national team are known, did fine with Aubameyang absent during the recent FIFA World Cup qualifiers, beating Cote d'Ivoire 2-1. He featured in only four of Gabon's 12 matches in 2017, including their unsuccessful run at the Africa Cup of Nations, which they hosted. Aubameyang was press-shy during that tournament, seeming to snub local journalists. Koula puts this down to political tensions; "His refusal to speak to journalists followed on from what had happened before AFCON." Should Aubameyang have used his influential voice to speak up for change? Koula: "He stayed silent and many people criticised him for this."
Auba's father, Pierre, was part of Jorge Costa's coaching staff, all of whom were dismissed and replaced by Jose Antonio Camacho’s team five weeks before the campaign.
"Along with his son, Pierre played a very important role in the squad." Koula says. "Sources close to Aubameyang said that he wasn't very motivated to come and play AFCON after his father had been removed."
Malouana agrees that the upheaval in the Gabon camp ahead of the tournament, and FEGAFOOT's treatment of Aubameyang Sr., explains the star's behaviour, but asserts that, "Aubameyang's patriotism is not in question."
Does the 28-year-old Gunner have second thoughts about spurning a chance to play for France, or even his mother's homeland Spain? Father, Pierre, promised that his children would choose Gabon over France, and so it came to pass. 'Everyone saluted his patriotism", says Koula. "No-one questioned him at that time, nor at AFCON 2012 when, after scoring three goals in the group stages, he missed a penalty in a knockout tussle with Mali."
Such is Aubameyang's fame in the land of his father’s ancestors that wherever he goes his supporters follow. His January move to the Emirates Stadium led to a surge in Gabonese interest in Arsenal. Fans follow their local heroes in the big leagues. Gabon's hawkers have been doing a brisk trade in Southampton kits since Mario Lemina joined them last summer. Koula believes Aubameyang's fans will follow him should he change clubs. His 2015 African Footballer of the Year award was celebrated "as though Gabon had won the AFCON." Blanchard Andoume, former Gabonese FA presidential candidate, tells Kwesé that: "People are disappointed at work on Monday if Aubameyang didn't score, but if he does score, then we begin the week with a smile."
While Arsenal are enjoying the promotional boost of Aubameyang's popularity in Gabon, Koula believes that some were disappointed to see him opt for the Gunners, particularly amidst persistent rumours linking him with Real Madrid. "Some people believe that Arsenal have become too weak a club for his current level, although it's a lesser evil for some who thought that he was going to leave for China." Koula believes that Auba, if used properly, can lift Arsenal to great heights. But he's not too fussed about the Gunners' fortunes, it's his compatriot he cares about: "Even if Arsenal lose, we're happy as long as Aubameyang is scoring goals."
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