Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has finally sealed his move to Barcelona from Arsenal, bringing the completion of one of the January transfer window's most notable deals two days after the Jan. 31 deadline.
Aubameyang had 18 months left on his contract with the Gunners but hadn't featured since being stripped of the captaincy in early December following a disciplinary issue. With the club willing to let him leave, a mutual agreement was reached to cancel the 32-year-old's contract (at a reported cost of £7 million) in order to allow him to join Barca on a free.
"We went through ups and downs together and your support meant everything to me. Having the chance to win trophies and the honour of being the captain of this club is something I will forever keep in my heart. I have always been 100 per cent focused and committed on doing everything I can for this club which is why leaving without a real goodbye hurts - but that is football."
On Wednesday, Aubameyang was formally announced as a Barcelona player with an illustration that came without anything in the way of context. The striker signed a 3½-year contract with the club, the terms including an option for a mutual departure in 2023 as well as a €100m buyout clause.
📞 You've got a call from Barcelona pic.twitter.com/7gkcfVwYa2— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) February 2, 2022
Many grateful Arsenal fans wished their former skipper well on social media, choosing to remember the good times -- the goals, the headlines, the trophies, the backflips -- rather than dwell on the rather incongruous end to his four-year stint at the Emirates.
Won't lie, Aubameyang's departure hit me a lot more today— Bhavs (@bhavss14) February 1, 2022
Arsenal themselves also put together a montage of their departing star's best bits from his 163 appearances for the club which brought 89 goals, a share of the 2018-19 Premier League golden boot and helped win the FA Cup and Community Shield in 2020.
⚡ For the match-winning moments— Arsenal (@Arsenal) February 1, 2022
🙅♂️ For the iconic celebrations
😀 For making us smile
Thank you for everything, @Auba ❤️
However, even before his transfer was made official, the forward was already pictured training under head coach Xavi Hernandez and alongside his new teammates for the first time on Tuesday.
We can only hope that Xavi has softened his position on the prospect of Aubameyang becoming a Barca player with the 42-year-old having previously spoke out against the club signing the striker. Aubameyang has been repeatedly linked with a transfer to the Camp Nou over the years but, speaking in 2020, Xavi seemed unconvinced that the player would prove a good fit.
While still serving as manager of Qatari side Al Sadd, Xavi was asked about his old club's rumoured transfer targets. When Auba's name came up in conversation, Xavi questioned whether the striker would fit the Barca mould. While hardly scathing, he certainly voiced doubts over Aubameyang's ability to play in the tight pockets of space created by the Catalans' intricate, possession-based approach.
"[Liverpool's Sadio] Mane and Aubameyang can kill you in open space. But Barcelona need players who know how to move in small spaces. I am thinking about player who would adapt to Barcelona and it's not easy to find one. Samuel Eto'o was perfect as is Luis Suarez right now."
Xavi appears to have undergone a philosophical U-turn since making those comments 18 months ago, having just welcomed Aubameyang aboard at Barca to lead his front line. How quickly things can change in football.
However, with Barca mired in €1.4 billion of debt, the club have been forced to offload several big-name stars (and their huge contracts) and fill the gaps with cut-price deals for supplementary players who might not ordinarily have been at the top of their wish list.
Sneak Preview pic.twitter.com/ABZ02AShjZ— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) February 2, 2022
The same can be said of La Masia graduate Adama Traore. whose recent return to Barcelona on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers also contravenes comments made by Xavi in 2017. Xavi said while discussing whether the Catalans should be looking to re-sign Hector Bellerin from Arsenal, having previously released him as a youngster, Xavi said:
"I haven't seen him play a lot, but what I will say is I find it difficult to accept signing a player who was already at the club. Of course it can work out, but I would not sign players who leave. Why are they leaving at 16, 17? I find it baffling. I just don't understand it. I wouldn't buy them back in the future. That would be my philosophy. You were at the club, you decided to leave, so you don't then come back."
Traore first entered the Barca academy system aged eight and spent the next 11 years with the club before leaving to sign for Aston Villa in 2015, coincidentally the same summer that Xavi ended his lifelong association with the club at the age of 35 to end his playing career at Al Sadd.
Over the course of his time in England at Villa, Middlesbrough and Wolves, Traore became one of the most explosive and powerful dribblers in world football, his hallmark being ... erm ... killing his opponents in open space.
Fingers crossed that first training session wasn't too awkward for all involved.