No sooner had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang touched down in London than he was off again – for a specialist mask fitting in Italy. The new Chelsea striker, who completed his £12m transfer from Barcelona before Thursday night’s deadline, will need one to protect the broken jaw that he suffered at the hands of armed burglars who raided his house last weekend.
What a week it has been for the 33-year-old, with so many emotions, majoring on the terrifying ordeal that the thugs inflicted on him, his wife and their children. Thomas Tuchel, the Chelsea manager, has promised him “all the help and support we can give”.
On a professional level, Aubameyang is back in town because he has “unfinished business with the Premier League” and by that you can bet your life he means the proving of a point to Mikel Arteta, who forced him out of Arsenal at the end of last season’s winter window, having grown tired of his erratic timekeeping.
Aubameyang has taken the cursed No 9 shirt at Chelsea because, according to Tuchel, he is “not afraid of the past and what a number means … he is ready to write his own history”.
Tuchel loves Aubameyang, having worked productively with him at Borussia Dortmund from 2015 to 2017. “The more challenges he has, the better he is,” Tuchel said. “If he wants to overcome the No 9 curse or he wants to show somebody in London that he’s better than people think … the more the better.”
Most immediately, Aubameyang must get used to the mask when he trains in it at Chelsea for the first time on Sunday; he will not be involved in Saturday’s home game against West Ham. And then, who knows? He could even play in Tuesday’s Champions League opener at Dinamo Zagreb.
“Maybe it could be Tuesday,” Tuchel said. “Although maybe this is very soon. So maybe it’s Fulham [next Saturday], maybe it’s a week later. The very latest is after the national break [at the end of the month] but we try to push things and Auba is happy to push things.”
It is possible to see Aubameyang’s personal whirlwind as a microcosm of the chaos that Chelsea have lived since March when the UK government took sanctions against the club’s then owner, Roman Abramovich, driving him from Stamford Bridge and setting in train the takeover saga that eventually saw Todd Boehly and his consortium assume control.
Everything was on hold and then the shackles came off – dramatically – with Boehly shelling out £266m to reshape the squad; a world record for a single window. It was frantic. At times it felt scattergun and did Chelsea overpay? Even Tuchel acknowledged that they probably did. But it was their situation, pinned on to the back foot and having to come out fighting; a case of as needs must.
The distractions have been numerous and both results and performances have been scratchy. But now comes the reset, the clean slate. For Tuchel and indeed Aubameyang, this is where the season must begin in earnest.
“We need to use the end of the transfer period and the energy and stability it gives you to grow the group,” Tuchel said. “We will use this momentum. We will use it as a new start. It is needed.
“I told you many times that we are a club in transition and we are paying the price for the last half a year of insecurity. The teams that are dominating the league are the teams who knew since many months what they want, where they are. It was not so clear for us until today.
“The transfer window was quite turbulent, although there was no other option than to do it the way we did. You can call it a distraction, a shift of focus – of course it was like this. That’s why I’m happy it’s closed now and the focus shifts completely to the team. I think we managed to get very good players.”
One of them is Aubameyang. Tuchel made the point that if anybody could deal with the trauma of such a vicious burglary, it was Aubameyang and the manager could not suppress a smile when he considered the sheer force of the player’s personality, the size of it.
Tuchel remembered how he had experienced only one problem with him at Dortmund and it was not to do with time-keeping, even if Aubameyang invariably left everything to the last minute, arriving amid great roars from the engine of his sports car.
It was when Aubameyang went off for a haircut instead of staying with his teammates before a Champions League tie against Sporting. Tuchel had to drop him but he reinstated him for the next game and watched him score four against Hamburg. “Auba ran to me and hugged me,” Tuchel said.
Arteta would surely disagree but, for Tuchel, Aubameyang is a guy with whom it is difficult to get angry. “Not everybody has to dress up in dark blue with a boring cap,” Tuchel said, pointing at his own training ground garb. “They can have a nice haircut and a fancy car.
“It is [only] a problem in judging people very quickly. ‘He has this car and this and that so he is unprofessional.’ Maybe he is just a bit more crazy than us. It is very fine. You need to be a bit outside the box to be special on the field.”