Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, joint top scorer in the 2018-19 Premier League, has silenced his critics in the best way possible: with a boot!
With his brace against Burnley on the final day of the Premier League season, Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang drew level on goals with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, creating a three-way, all-African tie for the Golden Boot.
Having relied heavily on Salah last year, Liverpool will be pleased with the diplomatic sharing of the prize between their two forwards.
Aubameyang, however, may deserve greater plaudits than either of them.
For not only did the Gabonese hit 22 goals in his first full season in England, he is also the first player in nearly two decades to win the Golden Boot while playing for a team outside the top four.
The last was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who scored 23 goals for sixth-place Chelsea in the 2000-01 season.
That doesn’t reflect well on Arsenal, but it’s quite an achievement for Aubameyang. Salah and Mane have been phenomenal, but Auba has effectively been playing with a handicap: his team-mates are just not as good as Salah and Mane’s.
But it’s not particularly important to talk about which of the three Golden Boot winners deserves the biggest round of applause.
What is important is how Aubameyang, the joint top scorer in England’s top league, has, after six and a half years, finally offered the perfect response to his most vociferous critics.
And by critics, I mean this particular Daily Mail headline from December 2012:
WHAT WOULD STANLEY MATTHEWS SAY IN CRUSTY BOOTS FROM HIS GREATEST GAME AS FRENCH STAR WEARS £2,500 DIAMOND ENCRUSTED BOOTS?
That enjoyable but unreadable list of words, containing both “crusty” and “encrusted”, refers to a time when Aubameyang, then playing for Saint-Étienne in France, wore a pair of diamond-studded boots while warming up before a match against Lyon.
“Footballers are well known for shamelessly flaunting their wealth,” the Mail story begins, before asking — rhetorically, weirdly — what Stanley Matthews would have thought of some Swarovski-modded Nikes.
The connection? Matthews, a footballer, also wore boots, only his happened to be “heavy” and “primitive”.
Saint-Etienne Striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's £2.5k Diamond Encrusted Boots pic.twitter.com/lS4Qqi4DAU
— Touchline View (@Touchline_View) May 29, 2013
Reaction to the story was mixed:
“Surely if these boots were to scrape alongside an opponents legs in say a sliding tackle they would cut/scrape?” one Mail reader asked in the comments section. “How can they be allowed?”
Thankfully, the striker wore regular boots for the match itself.
Although it’s difficult to decipher exactly what the Mail article is saying, there are a few key takeaways: the boots are bad; Aubameyang, having worn them, is also bad; Matthews, wearer of heavy and primitive boots, is good.
When the Mail article was published, midway through the 2012-13 season, Aubameyang was on his way to finishing second in the Ligue 1 scoring charts, behind only Zlatan Ibrahimovic of PSG.
His form actually sparked rumours of a summer move to Arsenal, whose scout Gilles Grimandi gave a glowing report to Arsene Wenger.
The manager ultimately signed Yaya Sanogo instead.
But though Aubameyang was outscored by Ibrahimovic that year (and pushed close to the wire by Jérémie Aliadière, another Wenger favourite), his big tally in France paved the way for a move to Dortmund, where, in 2016-17, he became the Bundesliga’s out-and-out top scorer.
His ridiculous haul of 31 league goals in 32 games remains a personal best.
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Unfortunately, a quirk of Germany’s football honours system meant the Gabonese did not earn himself the perfect visual retort to that Daily Mail piece.
Because unlike the Premier League and other tournaments, the top scorer in the Bundesliga is not given a lavish and blingy ‘golden boot’ to recognise their achievement.
Instead, kicker magazine presents them with something called the ‘Torjägerkanone’, literally ‘top scorer cannon’, a trophy shaped like a piece of artillery.
So while Aubameyang’s model gun was a symbolic foreshadowing of his move to the Gunners, it did not fit the boot-specific narrative needed to meet the Mail’s snobbery head on.
This season, things were different.
As Aubameyang climbed the scoring charts, forming a very fun strike partnership with Alexandre Lacazette and securing the Golden Boot with two goals on the season’s final day, the striker earned a trophy that celebrates a sporting achievement and serves as a fine, if accidental, riposte to the tabloids.
Aubameyang’s Premier League Golden Boot is significant, not just because it was shared among three, but because it proves that footballers can do something silly with their own boots and still win a ‘golden’ boot to recognise their efforts on the pitch.
Who would have thought?
And although it’s hard to say for sure, I think the award also goes some way to answering the Mail’s original question: what would Stanley Matthews think of it all?
Given that the former England winger never scored more than 11 league goals in a season, he might just see Aubameyang — 22 goals to his name, diamond boots in his cupboard — as a really good player.
He would be right.