Football is fun.
It’s a fairly obvious statement but it seems as if we need to reiterate it every once in a while, given how seriously some seem to take it.
And football is a hell of a lot more fun when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is at the top of his game.
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For those that missed it (seriously where were you?) Aubameyang played a starring role as Xavi Hernandez’s Barcelona thumped Real Madrid 4-0 in a stunning Clasico win at the Bernabeu on Sunday evening.
Some might, rightly, argue that this was Real's just deserts for their ill-advised marketing decision to wear a fourth kit for promotional reasons, rather than their traditional home strip. However a large part of the Barca victory came due to Aubameyang’s re-emergence as one of the better strikers in Europe.
He had to be eased in gradually. When he made his debut off the bench during the 4-2 thrashing of Atletico Madrid on February 6 it was his first bit of football for two months. Another substitute appearance in the derby against Espanyol and a start against Napoli in the Europa League both yielded goalless results.
Then he took off.
After his brace on Sunday, Aubameyang now has eight goals in his last eight matches. For context, this season he scored six goals in 15 games for Arsenal, three of which came in the EFL Cup against West Brom.

Xavi: 'With this intensity we can compete with anyone'

In January, it looked like his career in Europe was finished. Mikel Arteta and Arsenal as a whole wanted nothing else to do with him after a series of sub-par performances. At 32, it seemed inevitable that he would take one big pay-day in a smaller league before winding down his career.
But the complete opposite has happened. It has been widely reported that Aubameyang effectively bet on himself. He took a huge wage cut and waited for a top European club to take a chance on him. That club was Barcelona. It didn’t matter that Arsenal were giving him away for free, it didn’t matter that he grew up a Real Madrid fan, it didn’t matter that no other top club was even looking at him.
All that mattered was that he believed in himself. And so did Xavi.
Now he’s back to his best. He’s scoring from outside the box, scoring with both feet, scoring dainty little chips. He’s bringing out outrageous backheel assists. He’s working hard for the team and ruthlessly pressing opposing centre-backs and goalkeepers. He’s bringing out celebrations like only he can.

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 20: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (25) of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish football league, La Liga match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona at Santiago Bernabeu on March 20, 2022, in Madrid, Spain. (Phot

Image credit: Getty Images

So here’s a question for you.
Has there been a recent high-level signing where every party involved has won?
Because there’s a pretty good argument that Aubameyang is the perfect example. A player whose career looked to be finished got himself a new start in a new country and looks completely revitalised. The selling club got a player they didn’t want off their wage book and in turn have been able to move forward with their exciting young attacking core playing around Alexandre Lacazette. The buying club found a clinical number nine at good value, which was vital given their precarious financial situation. If you do find a better example do send it our way as they are certainly few and far between at the very top level of football.
And it speaks to a wider issue that, like what he said at the top, seems to be often forgotten about by football fans.
Footballers are people.
Again, this may sound obvious or stupid but it really begs repeating. So often football fans make these vast, sweeping statements about players as if they’re not all individual human beings, each with their own nuanced personality. Just because they get to play football for a living and earn sums of money that most of us can only dream about, they’re supposed to be okay with moving to different countries, working with people they may not like and regularly being abused doing their job.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Barcelona celebrates

Image credit: Getty Images

For some weird, slightly disturbing reason, football fans love writing players off, and often seem to hold on to that opinion even when the players prove to actually still be pretty good. This is probably not the time for a deep dive into the terrifying psyche that is the mind of a football fan but rather to make a general point that warrants considering.
Sometimes a change is all that is needed for a player to revitalise their career. Of course, you need the player to go into a good environment and have the right manager but just because a player fails in one club does not mean he will fail elsewhere.
To look for the perfect example you ironically can go to the player who Aubameyang was signed to replace at Borussia Dortmund, Ciro Immobile. The Italian forward was part of a hipster dream team at Pescara that also featured Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne and started for Torino in the 2013-14 season. That led Dortmund to believe he would be the perfect replacement for Robert Lewandowski, who had moved to Bayern Munich. Long story short, he wasn’t.

Ciro Immobile celebrates scoring for Lazio.

Image credit: Getty Images

Immobile was shipped off to Sevilla, who ended up having to buy him permanently due to a clause in the loan deal, even though they didn’t want him. The loan was made permanent in November 2015 and two months later Sevilla sent him out to Torino again, where he still struggled despite some decent performances.
In July 2016, Lazio decided to take a chance on the 26-year-old as they searched for a replacement for Miroslav Klose. Nearly six years later, Immobile has rewarded them with 176 goals in 253 games in one of the most astonishing late-career revivals.
Although Aubameyang is older than Immobile was when he got his game-changing move the point still stands. Footballers at the top level are there for a reason. They are, with a couple of obvious caveats, exceptional players. That doesn’t just go away overnight. Sometimes you need a change of scenery and someone to believe in you. Aubameyang and Barcelona both took gambles in January. They are both being rewarded for that leap of faith.
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