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Aubameyang - Liverpool or Chelsea? Why Klopp, Conte considering the 'madman'

Pierre-Emerick AubameyangChelsea fans? If you thought Diego Costa was a character, wait 'til you get a load of Auba!

One major positive (among many), should Chelsea clinch terms with Borussia Dortmund this week, is there'll be no clash with kit sponsors. A deal for Aubameyang will dovetail nicely into the new Nike era at Chelsea.

"Aubameyang is simply a colourful bird doing his own thing. He's extroverted and loud - it's all part of his quality," so said Christoph Metzelder, the former BVB and Real Madrid defender, last season in reaction to Aubameyang's infamous mask stunt.

The striker invited controversy - and much anger - for whipping out and pulling on a mask after scoring in the derby against Schalke. The problem? It featured a very prominent Nike swoosh.

The anger didn't come from fans, however. Nor teammates or even then coach Thomas Tuchel. It was BVB's kit sponsors Puma who threw the strop, hinting at ambush marketing and demanding punishment for the club's star man.

"We are convinced BVB will take the right action after this event," a Puma spokesman said at the time, before taking aim at Nike. "We're wondering why our competitor would put their player in such a situation."

To be fair, from their angle Puma had a point, with Aubameyang earlier in the season running around against Bayer Leverkusen with a great Nike swoosh cut into his hair. This time, BVB did act, fining Aubameyang an undisclosed sum for his behaviour.

Nike execs must be hopping over the prospect of meshing such player loyalty with their latest big club client.

"I'm not arrogant," pleaded Aubameyang in the aftermath. "It's just the way I live my life. I'm a big kid who loves his football."

And just to drive home the point, days after being slapped with his fine, Aubameyang posed with brother Willy, also a decent footballer as a junior, who was happy to model the infamous mask.

A show of defiance? Or Auba just being that "colourful bird", as Metzelder described him?

"He's not the same as others," adds the former Germany international. "Dortmund need him, so he is treated differently. His teammates accept that, just as you'd see with Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic."

But at Chelsea, will the strict Antonio Conte be prepared to offer such leeway?

Certainly, Tuchel was happy to indulge Aubameyang. And why not? The 28 year-old finished the campaign with the Bundesliga Golden Boot. And perhaps just as significantly, he made the most sprints of any player in the league. This "colourful bird" is no show pony.

"If someone's scores 50 goals in two seasons," says BVB teammate and former Chelsea attacker Andre Schurrle, "then that says it all. He's an important guy for us."

Indeed, leading up to Friday's transfer deadline in China, Aubameyang's teammates were lining up to publicly declare how much they wanted him to stay.

"We need Auba," said captain Marcel Schmelzer. "He's currently one of the best in his field, but Auba needs us just like we need him.

"Of course, there is a limit to everything, but I like this mixture of madness and professionalism."

Former BVB coach Ottmar Hitzfeld goes further, insisting the sale of Aubameyang would not only be a loss for his old club, but the Bundesliga also.

"He is a top striker and was the best in the Bundesliga with Robert Lewandowski," he said.

"I would like Dortmund to remain firm, insist on the contract and not let him go. He would be a huge loss for the Bundesliga."

Of course, the Chinese transfer window shut on Friday with Aubameyang still on Dortmund's books. A bid from Tianjin Quanjian was tabled - €60 million. But BVB were insisting on €80 million and refused to budge as the Chinese pressed them to compromise over the afternoon.

At 6pm in Germany, the deadline fell and there was little regret in Dortmund. Aubameyang still has suitors. Chelsea. AC Milan. PSG. All with the spending power to meet BVB's asking price. And they're prepared to sell, with local sources insisting a compromise of €70 million can be negotiated.

Liverpool are also in the frame, where their manager Jurgen Klopp worked with Aubameyang at BVB. If the Reds are prepared to go to €80 million for Naby Keita, the young RB Leipzig midfielder, then meeting BVB's valuation for a striker boasting 85 goals in 128 games shouldn't be an issue.

Former BVB and Liverpool striker Karl-Heinz Riedle is surprised his old club are ready to sell.

"It is no secret that he is chased by clubs all over Europe. Whether the club will be weak, one will see," he says. "Certainly you have a better chance of winning things with him than without him."

But what of the baggage? Well, if Conte finds it all too much, his rival at Liverpool has suggested a reunion could be on.

Indeed, Klopp came out in defence of Auba over his mask controversy - before hinting of things to come later in the year.

"Auba has certainly been bitten by what's going on, but first of all, he's an outstanding striker, and every coach would want to work with him.

"As long as he scores, a couple of crazy things can be excused."

Is it any wonder BVB's money men had no problem rejecting €60 million cash from China last week...?

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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