Having sold successful striker Cristian Arango last week to CF Pachuca, it looks like LAFC will opt to promote Kwadwo Opoku to the starting No. 9 spot, or maybe Carlos Vela will go back to the false 9 he’s played in the past for the black-and-gold, to varying results...
What’s that? LAFC have really gotten a taste for signing global stars?
It sounds like it, as the rumors persist that LAFC are in talks to land Chelsea forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. After the rumors began a few days back in Europe about the move, they have since gotten some legs stateside, too, and on Wednesday talks continue to be underway between the clubs, per MLSsoccer.com’s Tom Bogert.
There remains some obstacles ahead, like if Chelsea will pay Aubameyang’s wages for the next few months to probably try and squeeze him into a TAM deal, invoking the ire of other MLS clubs for LAFC getting yet another global name a sweetheart deal to make the numbers work with the league office. There’s also the question of whether Aubameyang wants to come, or has a real understanding of what playing in MLS entails.
And while it could work out, on the surface this looks like the riskiest move yet for LAFC. Let me count the ways.
He’s old and has a lot of miles on his legs
Aubameyang is 33, and I know what you’re thinking. Giorgio Chiellini was much older when LAFC signed him! Gareth Bale is the same age as Aubameyang! Yes, those are true statements but there are some distinctions.
Chiellini is a defender, and while his durability remains an issue, it is clear that LAFC never intended to play him every game. His body held up for the most part because he takes care of it and LAFC weren’t playing him 15 games in a row. Plus, as a center back, the game is played differently. You are reactive, and the game is played primarily in front of you.
Meanwhile, there was optimism Bale wasn’t crocked because he had barely played for the year before he arrived at LAFC. In hindsight, he actually was crocked and he was hanging on to get through the World Cup. And he could have persisted on, kept playing for LAFC, unable to stay fit and collected paychecks as a Designated Player while playing sometimes. He didn’t, and his retirement was a big favor to LAFC in the end.
Bale played 505 games across 18 seasons for his clubs. Aubameyang has played 533 in 14 seasons. There’s no magic number to indicate when a player is well and truly done, but watching Aubameyang playing, he’s not close to his best anymore and it has to be concerning that he may be Bale 2.0. And if he doesn’t win LAFC a trophy in six months, it may end up being a very different experience for everyone, in a bad way.
Will he take MLS seriously?
I’ll admit from the top that perhaps this one is off-base. Much like Carlos Vela was maligned throughout his tenure in Europe as a flake who didn’t care about his career and has been laser-focused since joining LAFC, perhaps the bad press Aubameyang has accrued the past few years is unfair.
However, Aubameyang has seemed unsettled more in his career than settled, with a couple exceptions. After really breaking through at Saint-Étienne, he moved to Borussia Dortmund, which turned out to be the most settled run of his career. Then he forced an exit, ended up at Arsenal, had a few good years there before he was stripped of the captaincy before he forced an exit to FC Barcelona, then was pushed out the door mere months later because Barça’s financial problems left them in dire straits. Going to Chelsea seemed like an odd move, and it hasn’t really worked out.
At the risk of undercutting my argument, there is a chance Aubameyang comes to Los Angeles, doesn’t have to worry about the boo-birds and vicious football media in Europe, and bounces back in short order. It could happen!
But there’s also the chance Aubameyang agrees to the move because he sees no future at Chelsea, and never really focuses on LAFC. Maybe he doesn’t respect the coaching staff, perhaps he thinks MLS will be easy, it’s possible he doesn’t realize how punishing the travel around North America will be. If that happens, he’ll join the Ashley Cole/Federico Higuain “I thought MLS would be a walk in the park” club and he’s not going to light up MLS. And he may be looking for another exit in short order.
Can a reasonable deal be had?
I think the big question, if Aubameyang is genuinely interested and committed to LAFC, is if a deal can be struck that works. John Thorrington has already said LAFC can’t sign a senior Designated Player at present, so absent significant roster gymnastics, that’s out, even though the club has an open DP slot right now. If Chelsea pays his salary for a few months, great, but then what? How can LAFC structure a deal to get him to agree to the salary while also somehow keeping him a TAM player (presumably)?
Beyond that major sticking point, can LAFC have an off ramp available in the deal? Even if Aubameyang comes on a free with a subsidized salary, he’s 33 and has showed signs of significantly slowing down. Can they afford to sign him for two or three seasons and let it play out? That’s a major risk if he doesn’t take to the club and league right away, or ever.
All of this makes it sound like I really don’t like Aubameyang as a player and that’s not true. I loved his play at Saint-Étienne and Dortmund, and obviously he has ties to Denis Bouanga, who also played for Saint-Étienne and was his international teammate for Gabon. Aubameyang speaks English and Spanish fluently and has had a very polyglot life. One imagines he would probably love many parts of living in Los Angeles.
But while LAFC have taken big risks in signing big names and seen it pay off handsomely so far, there are always significant chances for this “swing for the fences” approach to backfire. Hopefully they can pull it off again if they do it, but this particular move seems especially risky. We’ll see.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.