The country that we’ll be looking at this week is the home of one the hottest pieces of property in this summer’s transfer window. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is considered to be one of the best strikers in the world at the moment, due to his exquisite finishing and especially, his electrifying pace. The Gabonese international has been heavily linked with a move away from Borussia Dortmund during this off season, and at one stage the Premier League looked to be his most likely destination, with both Chelsea and, rather optimistically, Liverpool interested in his signature. However, he has admitted that a transfer to AC Milan, where he spent time as a youth player, is what he would like the most.
Gabon is located on the west coast of Central Africa and is one of 13 countries that is crossed by the equator. Football is by far the most popular sport in the country that boasts 1.5 million residents, and their national team has been competing since 1962. In the current FIFA rankings, Gabon sit at a very respectable 88th position, one spot ahead of last week’s Faroe Islands. They have been mostly unimpressive at major tournaments, having never featured in the World Cup finals and only making the quarter finals of the AFCON twice (in 1996 and 2012). The country’s highest honours must have come in 2013 when they were Champions of the CEMAC Cup. If you don’t know what that is, and I’d be very surprised if you didn’t, it’s an amateur competition for countries in Central Africa, where only players who play in the local leagues are allowed to participate. The tournament was abolished in 2014, meaning that Chad will forever be the holders of this prestigious tournament. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the joint highest scorer in Gabon history with 23 goals, but sadly for us English fans, it doesn’t look as though Aubameyang will be the fourth man from Gabon to play in our top flight.
Daniel Cousin (Hull City 2008-10)
Daniel Cousin was born in the capital city of Libreville before he moved to France at the age of three. In the early stages of his career, the striker played for several French league clubs, but found the most success with Le Mans and RC Lens. His performances for these two teams meant that he attracted interest from further afield, and in August 2007 he secured a £750,000 move to the Scotland, where he joined up with Rangers. He endured a difficult time with the Scottish outfit, with whom he stayed with for just over a year, as reported fallings out with his team-mates meant he was probably glad when a move down south became available.
In January 2008, it looked as though an early escape for Cousin in the works. However, a £3million move to Fulham fell through when FIFA didn’t grant the special permission required for the deal to go ahead. Instead, he had to wait until September of the same year before Hull City signed him for an undisclosed fee. His last six months with Rangers were particularly eventful as he was sent off for a headbutt in the semi-final of the UEFA Cup and was once again given his marching orders against Celtic for two bookable offences, in his last ever game for The Gers. The move to Hull couldn’t have come soon enough.
Cousin played just 30 times during his two seasons in the Premier League and 11 of those came from the bench. Rather impressively, he was just one of just a few players to net against Manchester United during their dominant 2008/09 season. The only other league goals he scored were against Arsenal (on two occasions) and Manchester City, therefore making a name for himself as a big game player. Cousin was constantly involved in transfer speculation, with a move to Wolves and a loan deal to Burnley both falling through. In the end, a move to Larissa in Greece, was the deal that was done in early 2010. Surprisingly, it appeared as though Cousin was set to re-join Rangers in 2012, when he was 34-years-old, but the registration was rejected after their disastrous fall into administration.
Cousin had an impressive time representing his country, picking up 56 caps and 13 goals. After looking at his official Twitter page, my very sketchy French suggests that he is currently the General Manager, whatever that is, of the Gabon national team, although his profile hasn’t been updated in nine months so he could be anywhere now!
Didier Ndong (Sunderland 2016-17)
The 23-year-old is in the early stages of his Sunderland career, but following their terrible 2016/17 campaign, he has dropped out of the Premier League for the time-being. Ndong played his youth football in Tunisia, graduating through ranks at CS Sfaxien. His breakthrough season came when he was just 18, when he played a valuable role in their playoff campaign, which eventually led to their eighth national championship. From there, the defensive midfielder moved to join Lorient in France. His one and a half seasons in the Ligue 1 was enough to earn himself a lucrative £13.6million transfer to Sunderland, making him the most expensive player in the club’s history. Ndong was a consistent figure during the difficult season which saw the Black Cats finish rock bottom. To date, his only Sunderland goal came in the 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace in February 2017.
Their first season back in the second tier has started positively, taking five points from the first three fixtures, but Sunderland will be wanting more from their star man if he’s going to represent them in the Premier League once again.
When he signed for Lorient, Ndong stated that he was confident about the future of the international side and that they weren’t “too far off the top teams”. However, the fact that Gabon got knocked out in the group stages of the 2015 AFCON, proves that he was perhaps a bit too optimistic about his side’s chances.
Mario Lemina (Southampton 2017-present)
Finally, we must briefly mention Mario Lemina, who has been a Southampton player for just 10 days. He graduated through the Lorient youth academy and into the senior side, where he played for a spell with Didier Ndong. His skill and talent was obvious to see and in 2013 he joined Marseille for a fee of €4million. His breakthrough came the following year when he was an integral part of the side that finished fourth in the league. Disappointingly, the highlight of the final season in France, came when he showed his notorious temper and was sent off for punching an opposing player in the *ahem* jockstrap region, during a league game against Rennes.
He then joined Juventus on a loan deal, that turned into a permanent contract. The overall loan and transfer was worth approximately €10million. After securing back-to-back domestic doubles in both his seasons with Juve, Lemina took what many would call a backwards step in his career, when he joined Southampton on August 8th of this year. Like Ndong’s Premier League move, it was a club record fee of £15.4million. He is yet to make his debut after being left out of the squad for the season opener against Swansea City at the weekend.
Having represented France at youth level and being a part of the victorious Under-20 World Cup squad in 2013, Lemina has since changed allegiance after initially turning down a Gabon call up in 2015. He finally accepted their invitation and made his senior international debut later that year against Tunisia, when he also bagged his maiden goal.