"Daddy, when I grow up I want to be a footballer!” Countless fathers have heard those hopeful young words down the years, greeting them with varying degrees of joy. While so many are able to relate effortlessly to the dream, a few know only too well the perils of their child’s chosen career – and, as in so many other professions, being the son of a famous forebear only adds to the complications.
Some cope with the pressure, some struggle and some go on to surpass their father’s achievements, with the likes of Cesare and Paolo Maldini, Johan and Jordi Cruyff, and Jean and Youri Djorkaeff having experienced differing fortunes. So when former Gabonese football icon Pierre-Francois Aubameyang learnt that his sons wanted to follow in his footsteps, he swore to do everything in his power to make their task easier.
Having become a scout for AC Milan after calling time on a playing career that took in a historic quarter-final appearance at the 1996 CAF African Cup of Nations, he began by bringing Catilina, now 26, to the San Siro. In 2004, he then convinced the club to give a chance to his son Willy, 22, followed by Pierre-Emerick, 20, two years later.
“It was a great experience to all be at Milan,” the youngest of the trio told FIFA.com. “The four of us together were stronger than we would have been on our own. I think that’s what helped us develop so much.”
Catilina has since opted to pursue a different avenue, but Willy now plies his trade with Belgian second-tier outfit KAS Eupen and Pierre-Emerick is still on the Rossoneri’s books, while playing on loan at Lille. The duo have also become regulars for Gabon.
“The national team is a whole different dimension,” explained Pierre-Emerick, a striker renowned for his pace. “As we were born in France, it brings us closer to our roots. Naturally there’s the pressure of following our Dad, but I hope we’ll show that we’re worthy of having the same name.”
As they set out eager to match their father’s 80 international caps, the pair know they can always rely on their number-one fan. “He gives us a lot and serves as a kind a psychologist for us,” added Pierre-Emerick. “He’s always there to give us a jolt when he feels we need it. Thanks to him, we wake up with a smile every day.”
Willy has had fewer chances to demonstrate his worth on the international stage, but Gabon coach Alain Giresse sees his younger brother as an integral member of the team. Pierre-Emerick impressed right from the start, in fact, making the most of his first call-up in March at the start of the third and final round of qualifying in the African Zone. Catching Giresse’s eye during a training camp ahead of a crucial opening match against Morocco, the Laval native was promptly given a surprise starting berth.
“I couldn’t dream of a better debut,” he said. “From that match, I’ll always remember leaving for the stadium. The team began singing traditional songs in the coach and that left such an impression on me that I got one of the songs stuck in my head. I couldn’t get it out of there, either in the dressing room, during the warm-up or after kick-off. I think it was that song which helped me shine. Either way, I scored from my first real chance. I was on cloud nine.”
His goal helped Gabon clinch a 2-1 success in Casablanca, and that result combined with a convincing 3-0 victory over Togo had the whole continent taking note. The Panthers continued to ride high until September and their home-and-away meetings with Cameroon.
“Maybe we didn’t go into those matches in the best possible conditions, but unfortunately I sensed a little fear in us during those two games,” said Pierre-Emerick. “It’s sad because I’m still convinced we’re a match for the Indomitable Lions.”
Gabon succumbed 2-0 to Paul Le Guen’s side in Libreville followed by a 2-1 loss in Yaounde, and despite a fine 3-1 triumph against Morocco last month, Gabon have only a marginal chance of reaching the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. To make the trip, they will need to overcome Togo in Lome and hope Cameroon fail to win in Fez.
“Whatever the situation, we’re going to believe in our chances right up until the end,” added the left-footed player. “Our goal was to ensure we qualify for the next African Cup of Nations and now that’s done. We’ll go to Togo with the pressure off. The World Cup would be the icing on the cake, a real dream.”
It would also help bring the Aubameyang boys out under from their father’s shadow once and for all.