Gabonese front man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has caught the eye in the green of Saint-Etienne this season, scoring six goals in Ligue 1 so far, the latest pair coming against Brest last Saturday.
That rich vein of form bodes well for what is the biggest challenge of the 22-year-old’s career to date, the 2012 CAF African Cup of Nations, which takes place in his home country and Equatorial Guinea next January and February.
With a little over a month to go before he joins up with his Gabon team-mates, Aubameyang sat down with FIFA.com to discuss his immediate objectives on the international stage and his increasingly productive career in France.
“It’s very important for me and for the team as a whole,” he said, focusing his attention on next month’s continental finals first of all. “It’s a big competition and it’s on home soil too, which is the kind of opportunity that comes around just once in your career.”
The AC Milan loanee does not lack the pedigree to succeed. The son of Pierre Aubameyang, who made nearly 200 appearances in the French top flight and was capped 82 times by Gabon, Pierre-Emerick is also the brother of fellow internationals Willy and Catilina Aubameyang.
So what are the chances of the three of them appearing together for the Panthers in January? “That would be great,” said the striker with a smile. “I’d love that to happen, but it’s up to the coach. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Panthers on the prowl
The coach in question is the German Gernot Rohr, who has been in charge since January 2010, and is now preparing for the task that awaits Gabon in Group C, where they will open up against Niger before taking on regional heavyweights Tunisia and Morocco.
“We know it’s not going to be easy because we’re in one of the tightest sections,” said the French-born poacher. “Even so, playing in front of our fans should really spur us on.”
The sense of anticipation is heightened by the fact that the Panthers have been starved of success since reaching the quarter-finals of the 1996 African Cup of Nations. Sixteen years on, expectations are high in a squad that is determined to excel.
“Putting the work in at club level is vital if we’re going to succeed,” said the younger of the Aubameyang siblings. “We have to get the physical and mental preparation right, and if we can do that we won’t need much motivating.”
Gabon’s second match against Morocco is sure to bring back happy memories for the rangy forward. It was against the north Africans that he made a goalscoring international debut back in March 2009: “That was a special moment in my career and I felt very emotional at scoring in my first game for country. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Since making that stunning start, Aubameyang has found his feet in a side made up largely of expatriates such as himself. “Our European-based players are our main asset,” he explained. “We can draw on our big-league experience to help the guys who are playing at home.”
Happy in green
On the books at AC Milan since 2007, Aubameyang has played most of his club football in France, arriving at Saint-Etienne at the start of the year after loan spells at three different clubs.
Having led a nomadic existence up to this point, he is anxious to put down some roots: “That’s been on my mind since last season and I’m very happy here. This year has gone very well for me. We’re starting to get to know each other properly and the coaching staff have faith in me. I’d be delighted to stay.”
Verts coach Christophe Galtier would no doubt be happy to see him stick around, having made the player a cornerstone of his side. Saint-Etienne’s only ever-present this season, Aubameyang also earned the lasting appreciation of the Geoffroy-Guichard faithful when he scored his side’s only goal in an eventful French League Cup defeat to arch rivals Lyon back in October.
L'ASSE have not lost since and will be hoping Aubameyang’s absence early next year will not prove too detrimental to their league campaign. As for the player himself, 2012 promises to be an exciting year on the international front, with Gabon also embarking on their bid to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Drawn in Group E of the African qualifying competition, they begin their challenge away to Niger on 1 June.
Tough but not insurmountable is the in-form striker’s verdict: “Reaching the world finals for the first time in Gabon’s history is a dream that’s within our grasp if we apply ourselves.”
If Aubameyang’s ambition rubs off on his team-mates, the Panthers could be in for quite a ride in the months ahead.