It was the shock January transfer that went down to the wire, but a rejuvenated Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has vowed to continue lifting FC Barcelona to the European and La Liga summit.
While the weight of the Barca shirt, figurately speaking, has gobbled up some big names, Aubemeyang has relished his move to the Spanish giants, smashing home 13 goals in 22 games since signing on January deadline day.
Aubameyang, who has played with Aussie keepers Mat Ryan (at Arsenal) and Mitch Langerak (Borussia Dortmund) and midfielder Mustafa Amini (Dortmund), revealed that the latter has extended invitations to Australia, but Wednesday’s clash against the A-League All-Stars at Accor Stadium would be his first visit.
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An in-form Barca side will be arriving in Australia – while sitting second, 12 points behind Real Madrid, the Catalans have picked up a point more than Real since Xavi’s arrival.
“This team has incredible potential. This (the level of improvement under Xavi) gives me a lot of confidence because when I work with the guys everyday I can see there is big potential,” Aubameyang said.
“There is a lot of young players with incredible talent, that needs to just work and believe in themselves, and just go for it. I’m sure with time, when you play games and you are a young player, the more you play games the more you get confidence. So this is why Barca will definitely be back.
“Obviously the guys to watch are the young ones – I have a few names for you, like Pedri, Ansu Fati, Gavi. All these guys they are the ones to watch, definitely, because they have something special.
“They come from La Masia, straight from there to the first team and this is a big point for Barca because they are here since they are young and this is the most, you have to be proud of them because they come straight from there and they made it through.
“These guys are the ones to watch and I hope we will give you a nice game and you will enjoy it.
“This is my first time in Australia – Mustafa Amini told me to come a few times, but I didn’t get a chance to get to there. So we will see (if I play in the A-League in future), who knows?”
Aubameyang, who has won both the Bundesliga and Premier League golden boot awards with Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal respectively, has risen to 10th on the La Liga top scorer’s chart (11 league goals) in half a season, with only Memphis Depay (12) netting more.
While admitting he remained baffled by his bitter split with Arsenal, the Gabon striker revealed that an intensive personal regime before arriving at Barca was behind his sudden impact.
“Definitely no-one was expecting that because I was in a situation that was a bit complicated at Arsenal. At the end of the day I always have this faith that I will try my best to reach my goals and challenges,” he said.
“To tell you the truth I don’t know (what happed at Arsenal). I think this situation could have been decided better, maybe from the manager (Mikkel Arteta), because I don’t know why it became public.
“We can do these things, I think, inside and arrange everything inside (privately). I don’t know what happened in his mind. To tell you the truth, now it’s done, I’m just looking forward. I’m at Barcelona, I’m more than happy and this is what is important right now.
“I had this opportunity to move to Barca and I was more than happy and ready for the challenge and this is why I started well. But also when I arrived I found a group of players that were really nice and really good, really talented. It was easier.
“I prepared myself a lot the month before coming. I trained a lot alone with my physical staff in Arsenal and I have to thank them, because I was ready for the competition and when I arrived I prepared myself a bit different than the team.
“I worked a bit more than them because I didn’t play for two or three months. It was a bit hard at the beginning but in the end the work pays off.”
Aubameyang, who’s played in pressure cooker and intense derbies, such as the North London one (Arsenal-Tottenham) and the Revierderby (Dortmund-Schalke) – he scored 233 goals for Dortmund and Arsenal – declared the El Clasico the biggest.
And he ensured a special place in Barca fans’ hearts, netting twice in a 4-0 win at the Bernebeu in his El Clasico debut last March.
“This is (one of) the most iconic rivalries I would say, even if I played some tough ones, like Dortmund-Schalke, Arsenal-Tottenham, St Etienne and Lyon in France as well – big rivalries,” Aubameyang said.
“This is the most viewed game in the world maybe, so every time they play each other it’s always the game to watch. And you can feel it. Everyone is not happy when (Real) Madrid wins a game, so this is all about the rivalry here.
“As a player, everyone who is called by Barca obviously can be only happy to try arrive at this club. Everyone knows how big this club is around the world. You can see the fans all around the world, everywhere you go.
“If you talk about Barcelona, everyone knows the club. I’m really enjoying every day I’m here. it’s a great club and it needs to be back in the Champions League and winning titles. That is what Barcelona is about.
“We have to finish the season well. Going into net season I will have to work a lot and hope to do a big season. This is my goal and my challenge. I want to stay as long as I can at this club, I will try to give everything.”