Men Of The Year Pierre-Em­er­ick Aube­meyang rocks.

Whether play­ing ta­ble foot­ball or the real thing, Dort­mund's Gabonese hot­shot Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang just can't stop scor­ing. No won­der he's fast be­com­ing one of the world's best strik­ers.

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS - Ste­fan Grey Por­traits An­drew Mur­ray Words

It’s im­pos­si­ble not to be a fan of Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang. There’s just some­thing love­able about him – even when he’s break­ing the rules. Less than 24 hours be­fore FFT is due to sit down with the 27-year-old for­ward and crown him one of our Men of the Year, there’s an almighty prob­lem. Aubameyang is dropped from Borus­sia Dort­mund’s squad for their Cham­pi­ons League tie with Sport­ing Lis­bon. Our in­ter­view, then, is seem­ingly can­celled. Still, FFT is al­ready in Ger­many, so the fol­low­ing morn­ing, we – to­gether with what ap­pears to be a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of the coun­try’s fourth es­tate – turn up at Dort­mund’s train­ing ground, hop­ing for the best. And sure enough, Aubameyang emerges into the car park and onto the train­ing pitch with­out a care in the world, jok­ing with his team-mates and coaches. He takes a full part in train­ing, con­stantly smil­ing and even stay­ing be­hind for ex­tra shoot­ing prac­tice on this crisp, over­cast Novem­ber morn­ing. The pre­vi­ous night’s storm in a teacup has al­ready been con­signed to an­cient his­tory. Let’s move on. As Ger­man jour­nal­ists si­dle away, Aubameyang greets FFT on the other side of the train­ing ground with a fin­gers-up hand­shake, a shoul­der bump and a beam­ing grin that’s nearly as shim­mer­ing as the sil­ver-stud­ded train­ers the 2015 African Foot­baller of the Year de­signed and is now wear­ing. They come com­plete with ‘PEA’ ini­tials, nat­u­rally. Wrapped up wear­ing a black beanie and fake fur-lined hoodie, he im­me­di­ately is drawn to the ta­ble foot­ball setup in the cor­ner of the room. “Oh, amaz­ing!” Aubameyang says. “Fancy a game?” Maybe later. First, we need to talk about his 2016. About last sea­son’s in­cred­i­ble 39 goals in just 49 games. About the trans­for­ma­tion from be­ing a jet-heeled yet prof­li­gate winger into one of Europe’s most lethal strik­ers. And, most im­por­tantly, about a love for Borus­sia Dort­mund. And Bat­man.

The 2015-16 sea­son was your best in front of goal. What changed? We tried some­thing new, be­cause it was Thomas Tuchel’s first sea­son as the coach [above]. I played cen­trally al­ways. The whole team had a great year – one I en­joyed a lot. It is easy to score goals when you have got so many good play­ers around you.

Was there any part of your game that you worked harder on to try and im­prove from last sea­son?

I’ve worked re­ally hard on get­ting into the penalty box more and be­ing much closer to the goal, which has brought real ben­e­fits to my game. It’s def­i­nitely helped to im­prove my goalscor­ing. I feel proud to have had such a good year last sea­son, as be­fore I ar­rived here a lot of peo­ple were ques­tion­ing whether I could ever play as a striker – they thought I was a guy who could only run down the wing very fast. I stay be­hind af­ter each train­ing ses­sion to im­prove my­self. It’s all part of the job. If you want to score goals, you have to keep prac­tis­ing. Prac­tice makes per­fect!

What would rep­re­sent a good 2016-17 sea­son for Borus­sia Dort­mund?

Achiev­ing Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball is the min­i­mum re­quire­ment and the most im­por­tant thing for this club. Be­yond that, we want to win a tro­phy, too – maybe the Ger­man Cup, be­cause we’ve reached the last three fi­nals but haven’t won one, so that is a big mo­ti­va­tion for us all.

What about the Bun­desliga? Can you catch Bay­ern Mu­nich?

We know that is go­ing to be very tough, what with be­ing a few points be­hind af­ter three months of the sea­son, but we hope so. First and fore­most, we have to fo­cus on what we’re do­ing and not worry about what Bay­ern Mu­nich are do­ing.

You have started well in the Cham­pi­ons League…

We have, and we are very happy with how things are go­ing in Europe. Hope­fully the draw in the knock­out stages will be kind to us. It’s great to be back in the Cham­pi­ons League, fac­ing play­ers such as Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. He’s a mon­ster – the best in the world. He was in­cred­i­ble at the Eu­ros and gave so much for his coun­try to win the tour­na­ment. It was the same with the win­ning penalty in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal.

Can you de­scribe Thomas Tuchel as a coach?

He cares about the small de­tails. He’s a per­fec­tion­ist and he wants his play­ers to be the same as well. I’m the same, so we’re a pretty good mix for each other.

Did you ex­pect things to work out quite as well as they have since you signed for Dort­mund?

I was al­ways sure it was the right choice for me. My first sea­son was solid, if un­spec­tac­u­lar, so maybe I would have pre­ferred it not to be so hard at the be­gin­ning, but I have worked very hard to get to this point and I want to get even bet­ter now. How long will I be at Dort­mund? I don’t know – you never know in foot­ball. What I do know is that I am very happy here, with the fans and ev­ery­body at the club. For the mo­ment I’m here, with a long con­tract, and I’m re­ally happy and I want to give my best for this great club.

What type of goal do you like scor­ing the most?

Spec­tac­u­lar ones, of course! [ Laughs] Like the one against Ga­bala last Oc­to­ber in the Europa League – I ex­changed passes with Marco Reus, then shot straight into the top cor­ner. Bril­liant! But se­ri­ously, I re­ally like go­ing one-on-one with the keeper and chip­ping the ball over them. I am al­ways look­ing and wait­ing for the goal­keeper to go to ground – then I do it. My fa­ther spoke many times with me about do­ing this more. I would al­ways shoot along the floor, but he told me to be more aware of what the keeper is do­ing, and chip it. This is some­thing I’ve been work­ing re­ally hard at. I’m now very com­fort­able do­ing this, and it’s a great feel­ing when it comes off. It isn’t just Aubameyang’s dad, Pierre – an 80-cap Gabon de­fender who used to work for AC Mi­lan as a scout – who has en­cour­aged his son to add the chip to a rapidly ex­pand­ing ar­moury. Half an hour be­fore sit­ting down with FourFourTwo, Aubameyang Jr had played a game with vice-cap­tain Marco Reus to bring a close to their ex­tended train­ing ses­sion. For 10 min­utes, Borus­sia Dort­mund’s prin­ci­pal mas­ters of at­tack­ing de­struc­tion cleared away the 40 or so ac­cu­mu­lated foot­balls by chip­ping them into the other’s sack. They were the fi­nal two play­ers to head back to the dress­ing room, hav­ing greeted each of the suc­cess­ful at­tempts with ju­bi­lant cheers. Aubameyang throws back his head and laughs when we sug­gest that the pair’s rather elab­o­rate game of Catch could be im­prov­ing his goalscor­ing tech­nique, “Yeah, why not?!” he says. “It’s good fun.” Born just 19 days apart in 1989 – Reus in Dort­mund on May 31 and Aubameyang in Laval, France, on June 18 – BVB’s two big­gest stars en­joy a close re­la­tion­ship. Reus, who had been a part of the club’s youth sys­tem for a decade be­fore leav­ing aged 17, re­turned to the West­falen­sta­dion from Borus­sia Monchenglad­bach in 2012, with Aubameyang ar­riv­ing from Saint-Eti­enne a year later, and the Dort­mund na­tive helped the new sign­ing to adapt to life there. Ex­trav­a­gance does not go down well in the Ruhr val­ley, an area that wears its work­ing-class roots as a badge of hon­our. So it was nec­es­sary for Reus to cool Aubameyang’s pas­sion for sports cars and propen­sity to wear €4,000 Swarovski crys­tal-en­crusted boots upon his £10 mil­lion move. The tide was al­ready turn­ing for the French-born Gabonese in­ter­na­tional af­ter a so-so first sea­son at the club, but his Bat­man and Robin goal cel­e­bra­tion with Reus af­ter open­ing the scor­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2015’s Ruhr derby win against ri­vals Schalke helped en­sure his leg­end. The two play­ers reg­u­larly so­cialise to­gether, and Reus has since ap­peared in a mu­sic video called Aubameyang, made by the lat­ter’s brother Felix (AKA Ghost St). “We’re not just pass­ing through,” they sing. “We want to go down in his­tory.” Aubameyang was moved from the wing to a cen­tral strik­ing po­si­tion by Jur­gen Klopp af­ter his first sea­son, but he has defini­tively flow­ered un­der Tuchel since the ar­rival of Klopp’s suc­ces­sor in 2015, thriv­ing un­der the re­spon­si­bil­ity of spear­head­ing Dort­mund’s at­tack in the ab­sence of Bay­ern-bound Robert Le­wandowski. Aubameyang is able to score any type of goal. The trade­mark dink over an on­rush­ing keeper or the hat-trick against Augs­burg last sea­son may give him the most plea­sure due to the amount of work that has gone into them – he talks about the lat­ter as “my best all-round per­for­mance... I was clin­i­cal” – but he’s not averse to the spec­tac­u­lar long-range ef­fort from dis­tance, ei­ther.

Spurs fans will re­mem­ber one in par­tic­u­lar from their club’s Europa League de­feat last sea­son, Aubameyang side­foot­ing home from 25 yards to give Dort­mund the lead in a 2-1 vic­tory at White Hart Lane. His rise is a prod­uct of train­ing – a cease­less quest of self-im­prove­ment. The ta­lent’s al­ways been there but it’s taken years to hone it. There’s a rea­son, quite apart from the fa­mil­ial con­nec­tion, why he was on AC Mi­lan’s books from the age of 18 to 21, even if he wasn’t handed a first-team ap­pear­ance. Through­out to­day’s train­ing ses­sion, Aubameyang com­pletes ev­ery ex­er­cise at max­i­mum in­ten­sity. He works through a mind-bend­ingly in­tri­cate seven-pass, drib­ble and shot drill with ease, ad­mon­ish­ing him­self with a frus­trated sky­ward look when­ever he finds the gloves of Dort­mund goal­keeper Ro­man Wei­den­feller with an ef­fort from just in­side the penalty area. It’s the same dur­ing the pos­ses­sion drills, too. With the main ses­sion over, and the other play­ers head­ing back to the show­ers, Aubameyang heads straight over to the kit store to fetch a blue plas­tic free-kick wall so that he can prac­tise them with his part­ner-in-crime, Reus. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight to the daily rou­tine of one of Euro­pean foot­ball’s most feared strik­ers and his quest for per­fec­tion. He ap­plies a sim­i­lar at­ti­tude to learn­ing lan­guages. Aubameyang speaks French and Span­ish (his mother is from the small town of El Bar­raco, west of Madrid) as well as Ital­ian, Ger­man and English. As he tells FFT, he even ap­plied that con­stant quest for self-im­prove­ment to the sci­ence of run­ning faster.

How did you get to be so elec­tri­fy­ingly quick?

I re­ally don’t know. At Mi­lan, when I was younger, I worked a lot on the leg press be­cause I had lost a bit of my nat­u­ral speed as my body changed. I was grow­ing too fast for the rest of my body to cope, so I had knee prob­lems. So I worked very hard in the gym to try to re­gain these fast sprints. That makes me proud.

Is it true you run 30 me­tres faster than Usain Bolt?

I don’t know, but a few years ago I did man­age to run 30m in 3.7 sec­onds, so that was a nice thing to do. Whether that makes me quicker than Usain Bolt, I don’t know! We all know Usain is the best. Will we have a race one day? I re­ally hope so! It would cer­tainly be a good chal­lenge.

Why didn’t things work out at Mi­lan?

I was very young back then. They had a dream team at that time, with play­ers like Paolo Mal­dini, Kaka, Clarence See­dorf – so many greats. I was young and it was hard to break into the team, but I’m so thank­ful for the ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause I learned so much. I was in Mi­lan in June and I spoke to [vice-pres­i­dent] Adri­ano Gal­liani, and he said that he was very happy for me. You feel good when some­one like that says this. Of course, when I left Mi­lan, I was full of de­ter­mi­na­tion to demon­strate to them that I was a good player.

How proud were you to win the 2015 African Player of the Year award back in Jan­uary?

Wow, it’s dif­fi­cult for me to put how I felt into words. I was the hap­pi­est guy in the world that day. I made my par­ents in­cred­i­bly proud, and that was im­por­tant to me. I was es­pe­cially proud for my fa­ther, Pierre, in par­tic­u­lar as he is African. I chose to rep­re­sent Gabon be­cause he had been cap­tain of the na­tional team, and I am just try­ing to fol­low in his foot­steps.

What did you make of Yaya Toure’s re­ac­tion to you be­ing given the award, de­scrib­ing it as “pa­thetic”?

I can un­der­stand it, be­cause he wanted to win the award, which would have been for a fifth time. Maybe it was a bit sad, but noth­ing re­ally hap­pened. I have so much re­spect for him and I wish him all the best. Win­ning that award clearly meant a great deal to you and your fa­ther. How big a role has he played dur­ing your ca­reer? He’s been mas­sive for me. He was a pro­fes­sional him­self and knows what works and what doesn’t work for a foot­ball player. He al­ways knows what’s best for me. He has al­ways helped me – even to­day. We still talk on the phone af­ter my matches, about how I played and how I can get bet­ter. We have a fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ship but I think there is some­thing more. I can’t ex­plain it.

Is it true that you used to kick balls while you were watch­ing his matches on tele­vi­sion?

[ Smiles] Yeah, it’s ab­so­lutely true. I started play­ing foot­ball be­cause of my dad. I used to watch all of his in­ter­na­tional matches with Gabon at the ground, then we’d go home and watch again on the TV, kick­ing an imag­i­nary ball around the house. I do that now with my son, ac­tu­ally, in the front room. It’s just like when I was a kid. He is com­ing along well. He might be­come a good player, just like his dad!

Now, we know that you’re a big Bat­man fan. So what’s your favourite Bat­man movie? It’s so dif­fi­cult to choose! I’d say The Dark Knight, with the Joker. If I had to be a Bat­man vil­lain I’d def­i­nitely be him. I’m a bit of a joker my­self. I like him, be­cause with his make-up he al­ways has a smile – just like me!

Which other Borus­sia Dort­mund play­ers do you think would make for good Bat­man vil­lains?

I don’t know. Marco Reus and Ous­mane Dem­bele would be good vil­lains, I think – I don’t know which ones, but the three of us as vil­lains would be scary for any­one! I have Bat­man mem­o­ra­bilia all over my house – posters, col­lectibles, the lot. It’s all for my son, too. He’s a big Spi­der­man fan, though, so we have got a lit­tle bit of a prob­lem there! [ Laughs]

How do you like to re­lax away from the pitch?

I love spend­ing time at home with my kids, as well as play­ing on the PlayS­ta­tion. Noth­ing spe­cial. I’m a calm guy; I like do­ing quiet things at home. I’m also a big trainer fan. I’ve got loads of pairs at home. Which are my favourite? These ones, ac­tu­ally! They’re very shiny, I de­signed them my­self and they are cus­tom-made.

What will be your New Year’s res­o­lu­tion for 2017?

I was ac­tu­ally talk­ing about this the other day with my trans­la­tor. I think I should drive more slowly. I should def­i­nitely drive more slowly! [ Laughs]

In­ter­view over, Aubameyang zooms across the Borus­sia Dort­mund press room and crouches over the Fuss­ball ta­ble he’s long been eye­ing. “Come on, then,” he beams. “Let’s play.” Light­ning quick on the draw, he blasts home an open­ing goal be­fore we’ve blinked. Then he toys with us, rolling the ball across his for­ward line and throw­ing in the odd dum­mied shot be­fore stuff­ing home an­other two. Just two days af­ter hand­ing us a ta­ble foot­ball les­son, Pierre-Em­er­ick is pass­ing on sim­i­lar teach­ings to real-life de­fend­ers. He scores three at Ham­burg within 30 min­utes of the match start­ing, then adds a fourth – his 14th in 13 games this sea­son – af­ter the in­ter­val, as the visi­tors tri­umph 5-2. We got off lightly. At 3-0 down we retire, our pride ir­re­vo­ca­bly dented. Back in front of the cam­era for a cou­ple of pic­tures, the Bun­desliga hot­shot goes through myr­iad poses, smiles and hand ges­tures. “It’s ir­re­sistible, Mr Bond!” shouts one pass­ing Dort­mund coach, who’s popped his head in to find out what all the com­mo­tion is. Aubameyang de­scends into laugh­ter. He may love to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion, but he is supremely per­son­able and, as we bid farewell, he apol­o­gises for FFT’s ta­ble foot­ball beat­ing. With that, hands are shaken and Europe’s most lethal speed­ster de­parts. Mo­ments later, a sports car roars past the press room at ear-ring­ing vol­ume. “That was Auba,” laughs Dort­mund’s press of­fi­cer. “So much for that New Year’s res­o­lu­tion, eh?” Some­times rules are made to be bro­ken.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.