Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was held out of Gabon’s (dramatic) 1-1 draw against Ghana yesterday after a pre-match CAF medical exam revealed that he had a “cardiac issue” likely related to his recent symptomatic case of COVID-19. Aubameyang tested positive upon joining up with Gabon a few days before AFCON.
Although his COVID-positive cannot be definitively tied to his spending time at a restaurant / club in Dubai with teammates before traveling to Cameroon, pictures and video of which circulated on social media, it seems likely that is when and where he was exposed. Gabon teammate and A.C. Milan standout Mario Lemina, who was pictured with Aubameyang in Dubai, also tested positive.
Fortunately, The Athletic reports that Arsenal have spoken with Gabon’s team doctors and are confident that the measure was precautionary and not cause for concern. Aubameyang has been back in training for a few days and is reportedly feeling well.
This isn’t the first brush with COVID-19 for Aubameyang. He was “reminded of his responsibilities” last year when a video emerged of him getting a tattoo seemingly in violation of COVID protocols. He missed a pre-Europa League travel COVID-19 test last season. And he was among the Arsenal players who tested positive the day before this season started, although there is little information about whether that was related to a breach in protocol or the simple fact that COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that you have a chance to catch if you’re interacting with other people.
But when you couple all that with him showing up late to the Tottenham match last season, even though it looks to have been bad traffic that got him, and other rumblings about his commitment / focus / attitude over the course of his career it doesn’t paint the best picture.
I try hard to avoid speculating about things that I don’t know enough about when it comes to players because often we project and let our own biases color our perception. But indulge me for a second on Aubameyang. I think we can fairly say that for him, football is a job more than an all-consuming passion. For what it’s worth, that’s not dissimilar from what Ben White said about himself earlier this season with his comments about not going home to immerse himself in football at the end of his work day. Nor is it unlike what some lionize Hector Bellerin for, i.e. being a well-rounded individual with interests outside of his job.
We’ve all known people like Aubameyang. They do what they need to do to be good enough at their job, but you know they could do more. They’re blessed with natural gifts — be it intelligence in the office or athleticism for a footballer (or intelligence for a footballer...but not really athleticism in the office) — and the combination of those gifts with the amount of work they put in makes them pretty good (or even great) at what they do.
Evgeny Kuznetzov, a supremely talented hockey player for my Washington Capitals, was once asked about whether he thought he could be the best player in the league. His response was basically, “why would I want to do that, that’s a lot of work, I’m really good right now, and I want to enjoy my life.” That seems very much in line with what Aubameyang would say if asked the same question.
Aubameyang is well within his rights to do with his life as he sees fit. He can put as much or as little effort into his job as he chooses. Football players are human beings, and we should treat them as we would treat anybody else. I have always been steadfast in that belief. And as unlikely as it may seem given the body of evidence, it’s possible that all the COVID stuff has been a series of unfortunate events, bad luck, and coincidences for Aubameyang. It would be unfair to not at least recognize that possibility.
But there is undoubtedly a disconnect between both fan and club expectations and how he has chosen to act as a professional footballer. And that creates a lot of tension. Whether the expectations are unreasonable or Aubameyang is out of line (or both — it’s definitely both), is somewhat academic. What matters is how Mikel Arteta, Arsenal, and Aubameyang view things. I still think there is a way back for the relationship, although that’s rapidly turning into more hope than anything else. The prevailing sentiment seems to be he’s finished as an Arsenal player.
Circling back to Aubameyang’s COVID recovery — for what it’s worth, “cardiac issue” and “heart lesions” sound very much like something to worry about to me, but I’m not a doctor. The bottom line is that the medical professionals don’t seem concerned that it will have a lasting impact on Aubameyang, and around here, we trust doctors. I’m glad that Aubameyang looks unlikely to suffer any lasting health problems. That’s the most important part of all of this, that Aubameyang the person is going to be alright.