The great story of… Pierre Aubame
In Gabon, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the king.
But behind the son is the father, Pierre Aubame, another true pioneer of African football in Europe.
Between mysterious injuries, a transfer to Colombia, and some hard-fought battles to stay up, let’s look back on seven key moments of a lively career. - CG
A story of surnames
Located all the way up to the extreme north of Gabon, close from the border of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, Bitam is a small sunny town of 13 000 inhabitants. It’s main assets are the intense cultivation of rubber trees, the frenzy surrounding a great market where to find all sorts of local products and the presence, at every street corner, of small restaurants where to taste bushmeat in any form. That’s where, on May 29th 1965, Pierre-François Aubame-Eyang was born. A very long surname which he’ll proudly keep while on the African continent, but which he had to summarize once he acquired the French nationality. As the administration asked him to keep only one of his surnames, the young man chose the surname Aubameyang. Then, to keep it simple, he opted for being called Pierre Aubame.
A pioneer in Europe
Having arrived in France during his youth, Aubame played in small clubs before stepping up the pace at the age of 17, at the USM Malakoff, in the Parisian suburbs. Very quickly, his talent upfront impressed his coach Yves Fercoq, who decided to talk about this wonderkid to his friend Michel Le Milinaire, Laval’s legendary coach, who was then in the first division. The young Gabonese passed his trial, and got included in the squad, even if he had to remain on the bench for a little while, and battled to get in the first team, even accepting to be progressively replaced as a midfielder. After a year spent in the reserves, he played 13 league games in 1985, 14 in 1986, and 24 in 1987. Without producing incredible performances, his progression was regular, and Aubame, bit by bit, became a top-level defensive midfielder, capable of recovering dozens of balls during every match. A mentality which he later summarized : « I hate losing ! I hate those who just come out to play. You have to give everything ! Personally, on a pitch, I don’t let my spot unoccupied ! » A precious player in a team which regularly played to stay up, and which earned him the nickname of « the general ». A form of recognition which sounded like a consecration for the Gabonese, at a time when there weren’t many African players in Europe.
Writing History with Gabon
While he started to make a name for himself in Laval, his success caught the eye of the manager of the « Panthers », who gave him his first cap in 1985, at 20. The start of a great love story with the « Azingo », of which Aubame turned out to be one of the key players, with 82 caps in total along his career. His greatest moment with the national team remains the epic qualification for the 1994 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, the first in Gabon’s history, at Cameroon’s expense. The mass hysteria in Libreville was quickly over after the start of the tournament. Facing the brilliant Nigerian squad, the future winners of the tournament, the Panthers lost on the irrevocable score of 3-0 at the El-Menzah stadium of Tunis, before being punished two days later by Egypt (4-0). The disillusion was immense, but the lesson was precious. Two years later, Aubame, who was then 31, was the leader rejuvenated group, and the emblematic captain. « I don’t know what people want, but whenever I step into a dressing room, they ask me to be the captain! he laughs. In the dressing room, I’m in charge of the atmosphere, I’m a joker, but I’m also a warrior. I’ve always been like this, even in my everyday life. » Under his command, Gabon defeated the DRC (2-0) and qualified for the quarter-finals, played against Tunisia. Amazingly tensed, the duel ended in a draw, 1-1, and a penalty shootout, during which Gabon was knocked out, at the very end of a thrilling game.
An intriguing injury
In six seasons spent with the « Tangos » (nickname of Laval’s team), Aubame played 131 matches and scored five goals. But this longevity could have ended at the end of the 1980’s, when the player suffered a mysterious injury, which stopped him from walking during many long months. It’s Franck Leboeuf, his former partner at the heart of the defense, who recalled this intriguing anecdote on the set of the French TV channel SFR Sport: « When I arrived, he had been injured for many months. He told me that he was running around the stadium when suddenly, his legs had stopped working. It came to the point where he couldn’t walk, or even drive. He went to see a few doctors in Paris, but no one knew what had happened to him. He seriously thought that he had been the target of a marabout. »The next part is fairly bizarre : « At one point, to treat himself, he went back to Africa, in a swimming pool to fight with some rocks or something…it was intense (sic). » And when he looked like a lost cause, the player finally decided to go and visit a bone setter which Leboeuf also went to see for a problem on his internal meniscus. « Pierre was almost in a wheelchair. The guy, he touched his legs, acting like he was removing some evil spirits, making the energies flow around, and at one point he told him: « Now, go walking, go running. » Pierre left, and came back two hours later. He hadn’t stopped running. He never understood how or why, but he was healed. » On his side, Leboeuf was lucky enough to avoid an operation. « It was pure madness. That guy, at the start, I thought he was a fraud, but in reality he was extraordinary. »
After leaving Laval, Pierre Aubame carried on switching from the first and second French divisions at Le Havre, and Toulouse, where he’s remembered as a very respected member of the dressing room. Bored of constantly going back and forth, he decided to leave everything behind during the summer of 1995, and to play abroad for the first time, in his native country, after signing for the FC105 Libreville. Expected by a whole nation, the return of the prodigal son turned out to be a very short one. Aubame played a few matches in the Gabonese cup, the only title he ever won, before flying out to Colombia in December that same year. There, he signed for the title-holders, the Corporacion Popular Deportiva Junior and discovered the popular enthusiasm which surrounds the Copa Libertadores, in which he reached de quarter-finals before finishing the year at a disappointing eighth spot in the league. Enough to make him want to leave again? Hard to say. The fact remains that in December 1996, he carried on with his quick round-the-world trip and dropped his luggage in Italy, to sign a contract with US Triestina, in Serie B. There, he played 18 matches before going back to France, after having finished his round-the-world trip.
During the summer of 1997, Aubame accepted to play for OGC Nice, who were then in the second division. The season was a disappointing one, end ended with a fourteenth spot in the league, with three different managers. On a personal level, Aubame had a great return, playing 29 matches, and playing the European cup for the first time of his career. However, he was released before the start of the 1998-1999 season, which marked the start of a dry spell for him, which lasted three years. A spell in the wilderness, which his son, Pierre-Emerick, remembers with emotion, in an interview given to Le Point Afrique: « My father came back from nowhere. I know what he’s been through since I was a child. He’s like my best friend, and I have the utmost respect for the man he is. I saw him working alone during many months before signing for his last club, in Rouen, in 2001. He told me that he always went forward like this. I inherited this of him, among other personality traits. »
Extremely frustrating, the wait finally paid off as the Gabonese international took part in the club’s very successful season in CFA (the fourth-tier of French football), as they went up to National, with a very nice second spot in the league. An adventure which enabled him to retire with the satisfaction of having accomplished his duty.
After the end of his footballing career, Aubame worked for AC Milan for a while, where he was a supervisor and a scout, and where he was pretty successful. During the summer of 2006, it was him who convinced Silvio Berlusconi to sign Yoann Gourcuff, who was then a very promising talent at Stade Rennais. However, as his two sons Pierre-Emerick and Willy grew up, he decided to stay close to them, first as a personal coach, before being their agent. A priority he quickly settled, and which provoked his resignation in 2013, when he was the manager of the Gabonese U21 team, to defend Pierre-Emerick’s interests. « I consider that I’ve managed to take my son to the right place, which means at the highest level, he recently said. I can now start to breathe again. I’m still with him in Dortmund, but I consider myself to be freer. »
Since last December, the ex-defensive midfielder is back on the pitches, in the veteran category of the Paris FC, playing as a striker. « Since my retirement, I’ve really found my killer instinct back. When I start to accelerate, nobody can follow me », he says proudly on the club’s website. Enough to have a few regrets? « When I was younger, they should have left me play upfront, I would have gradually improved, like Pierre-Emerick did. But I have no regrets, because I tell myself that if I had succeeded like him, maybe he wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing today. »