Sunday’s somewhat unlucky goalless draw against VfL Wolfsburg was overshadowed by news that dropped little over an hour before kickoff: Borussia Dortmund’s star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had been suspended for disciplinary reasons, yet again. As Yellowwallpod writer Lars Pollmann argues, this should be the final straw for his career at the Westfalenstadion.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has always been a mercurial figure. A flamboyant personality that added a little oomph to a Dortmund side that at times has lacked a bit of character, especially since Jürgen Klopp left in 2015.
The club gladly gave the Gabonese his head off the field, because it never hindered him on it. His coaches, chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, sporting director Michael Zorc — they all said the same things about Aubameyang. That he’s pretty much a consummate professional in training and on gameday.
The numbers back that up: Aubameyang has been a historically good goalscorer for Dortmund, quite possibly the best the club has ever had. He has missed few matches through injury, clearly taking good care of his body.
However, something about Aubameyang has changed over the last year or so. Whereas he used to be a little out there and eccentric, he’s transformed into an actual distraction that has negative effects on the on-field product.
Sunday’s suspension completed a hat-trick of transgressions for Dortmund’s No. 17, who had already been left out of the team for matches against Hamburger SV last season and against VfB Stuttgart earlier this campaign.
His violations of team rules in those instances were bad enough but nothing outrageous — Aubameyang had flown to Milan on a day off and invited a camera crew on the club’s training ground, both without permission.
This time, however, the 28-year-old’s utter disregard for the club’s values and his team-mates is far more than a storm in a teacup. Aubameyang failed to show up for a team meeting head coach Peter Stöger had called to talk about and develop a team spirit ahead of the start of the Rückrunde.
“He said he didn’t remember but we all know that’s not true,” Stöger said ahead of the match, which is quite an indictment between the lines.
Zorc, who famously said he “loves this player” could hardly have been more decisive after the Wolfsburg match himself in an interview with broadcaster Sky.
At some point you can’t tolerate it [lack of discipline from Aubameyang] anymore. I don’t know what’s going on inside his head. We had a very contentious discussion today. We’re not used to this behaviour from him. It can’t go on like this.
As before, Aubameyang will have to pay a fine on top of missing the match, but there’s a defnite sense that this situation will lead to a more permanent solution.
In short: Dortmund have to try and sell the player in these last two weeks of the January transfer window.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for the club that clearly had internal consolidation atop the wish list for Christmas. 2017 was a turbulent year for players and decision-makers alike.
2018 was supposed to be calmer, more focused on the goings-on on the pitch. A year to put things on the right track for the future after they spent the last 12 months putting out fires left, right and centre. Aubameyang’s selfishness threatens to torpedo that pious hope a mere two weeks into the year.
Of course, letting go of this great a goalscorer is a dangerous proposition. Dortmund don’t have anyone to compensate for the potential loss of Aubameyang’s production. The Wolfsburg draw offered a first glimpse of life without the Gabonese, and it’s probably not a stretch to say they would’ve won the game had he and not 18-year-old Alexander Isak been playing up front — despite the Swede’s useful debut in the starting XI.
There’s no guarantee Dortmund can replace their controversial striker on the transfer market, either. Making good deals in January is difficult, and selling clubs are ruthless.
Not only do they know how much BVB made for Ousmane Dembele in the summer and, in this scenario, Aubameyang. They also know Dortmund have no realistic internal contingency plan for him. Any club Watzke and Zorc approach will squeeze every last penny out of them.
It has to be taken into account, but it shouldn’t put Dortmund off doing what’s necessary.
Necessary as both an internal signal to the team that they will no longer tolerate players who put individual desires ahead of the group, as well as an external signal that Dortmund won’t be held hostage by an employee — well, not again anyway.
Dortmund are dancing on a knife’s edge here, and it could well be that this farcical sideshow is a bigger threat to their reaching this season’s goals than a less-than-perfect head coaching hire in the summer ever was.
The saving grace might be that the Bundesliga is so bad this year that fourth place, which is a direct UEFA Champions League spot this season, will still be hard to miss for Dortmund.
But even if selling Aubameyang were to lead to a year away from the big pots of money, that’s a risk Dortmund have to be willing to take.
Re-establishing a culture in the club has to be worth it. Players who aren’t willing to get in line for that are not.