In a short period of time, few players have gone from being the biggest problem at one club to being the most effective solution at another.
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang’s rise from Arsenal’s misfit to Barcelona’s indisputable first-choice striker has boosted the club’s season and his personal position among Europe’s top strikers.
In Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday night, Aubameyang scored the opening and last goals. He might have easily scored a hat-trick; as it stands, he has eight goals in 11 games for his new team.
He was right in the middle of the celebrations with one arm around Eric Garcia and the other around one of the club’s kit-men as the Barcelona players danced up and down in the dressing room after the clasico singing: ‘Being at Barca is the best there is.’
To say he has fit in and adapted to life in a different league is an understatement. He’s even lifted the pressure off the board’s decision to sign Erling Haaland despite financial concerns.
It’s a long cry from his recent depression, when a lack of form, discipline, and devotion cost him the captaincy at Arsenal.
Last December, the club lifted a rule on players traveling abroad to allow him to see his sick mother in France on the condition that he return the same day so that he could train the next morning.
He violated that rule by returning the next day in time for training but not in the timeframe requested by the club, as well as with evident violations of covid protocol.
He was left out of the squad for the next game, and it was made clear to him after discussions with manager Mikel Areta and technical director Edu that he would lose his captaincy.
The fact that the exit would lead to Barcelona surprised everyone. Even if it meant setting a good example with a player with whom he had earlier had a strong connection, the club felt it had to support Arteta’s efforts to enforce some non-negotiable norms on the group.
The Aubameyang deal was revived after Atletico Madrid — who still own the Juventus loanee – dropped the idea of strengthening a La Liga rival.
The player was surprised by his terrific luck. He signed for Barcelona just before midnight on deadline day, having terminated his contract with Arsenal.
Because he was a free agent, they were entitled to register him with the league on February 2. And they were able to pay him because he had taken a significant salary cut — he will make a third of what he did at Arsenal for at least this season.
Barcelona, on the other hand, had no intention of signing him. They had been keeping an eye on his position for some time, but Alvaro Morata of Spain was the top target heading into the window.
There were also assurances from Arteta to Xavi, via other sources, that despite falling short of what was required of an Arsenal captain, he was a good person.
He has played wide left in a number of games so far while Ferran Torres occupied the central lane, but he has mostly played as a nine.
That’s where Xavi wants him, and that’s where he’ll play next season if Barcelona doesn’t purchase Erling Haaland, as looks very likely.