ADRIAN KAJUMBA: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang appears victim of Chelsea’s bid to address their wage bill

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was back in Barcelona’s victorious dressing room following El Clasico victory last Sunday in scenes that are likely to have felt familiar.

On March 20, 2022, Aubameyang was a chief protagonist in Barca’s success against their bitterest rivals Real Madrid, scoring twice and setting up another at the Bernabeu in a famous 4-0 win and historic El Clasico debut.

On March 19, 2023, Aubameyang, among the Chelsea players given some time off, was there following a flying visit back to his old club to see the dramatic 2-1 victory that edged them closer to La Liga title. 

It may have looked like Aubameyang never really left the way he was warmly welcomed back into the Barca fold. He certainly might wish he never did.

Aubameyang was only at Barcelona for the second half of last season but his 13 goals made him their joint top scorer by the end of it and he inspired them into the Champions League.

Manager Xavi was among those ‘sad’ to see him leave and how he was greeted by former teammates and fans a few days ago underlined the impression made in his short stint in Spain.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is out of favour and has played seven minutes since January 21

Aubameyang did hit a brief spell of form under Thomas Tuchel's replacement Graham Potter

Aubameyang did hit a brief spell of form under Thomas Tuchel’s replacement Graham Potter

Despite that Barcelona’s financial situation, as much as anything, forced them to sell Aubameyang to Chelsea on deadline day for £10m.

Few could have predicted how things would unravel since he arrived last summer to seemingly solve Chelsea’s search for a No.9.

And Aubameyang would be forgiven for feeling aggrieved about much of what has happened.

Having Champions League football, unlike the other main contenders for his signature Manchester United, was part of Chelsea’s sales pitch to Aubameyang.

They also had the Thomas Tuchel factor in their favour – Aubameyang’s former manager at Borussia Dortmund and a close friend who has a unique relationship with the striker, knowing exactly what makes him tick.

Then Chelsea manager Tuchel spoke directly to Aubameyang before he joined. Had either known that Tuchel was going to last less than a week into Aubameyang’s Chelsea career, safe to say both might have done things differently.

Aubameyang only played once for Tuchel at Chelsea, defying doctors’ instructions to stay out of action for a number of weeks in order to do so.

He wore a mask in what proved to be Tuchel’s final game in Croatia, to protect a broken jaw suffered in a traumatic armed robbery at his Barcelona home.

Aubameyang did hit a spell of form under Tuchel’s replacement Graham Potter, scoring three in three in early October, but his form dipped along with Chelsea’s results and confidence.

They have proved to be his only Chelsea goals though he did not play a full game in his 18 Chelsea appearances, only a handful of times more than 70 minutes and at times in matches you could see his frustration when his runs were not read and chances to create the openings he thrives on were missed.

'Auba' joined the dressing-room celebrations after Barca beat Real Madrid 2-1 on Sunday

‘Auba’ joined the dressing-room celebrations after Barca beat Real Madrid 2-1 on Sunday

The Gabonese hitman, 33, moved to Chelsea in the hope of reuniting with his former Dortmund boss Tuchel

The Gabonese hitman, 33, moved to Chelsea in the hope of reuniting with his former Dortmund boss Tuchel

He fell mainly behind Kai Havertz in the pecking order, though has a similar minutes-to-goal ratio, 283 to 284 from the German forward, whose tally has been boosted by three in his last three games, two coming after replacing Jorginho as Chelsea’s penalty taker.

And the setbacks for Aubameyang have kept coming. A shock omission from Chelsea’s Champions League squad instead of injured players and wantaway players such as Hakim Ziyech.

Seeing rookie striker David Datro Fofana – not quite ready based on his absence from squads since – leapfrog him to start against Southampton. Attempts to loan him out to MLS side LAFC.

The extent to which Aubameyang’s move has gone wrong along with the speed has prompted inevitable questions about what has he done wrong.

Especially when Chelsea have so often looked like they were lacking a traditional striker.

Was it a lack of goals earlier in the season? Perhaps it is a style issue, with Tuchel’s replacement Potter hinting he might favour a more fluid frontline. Whenever he has enquired the answer coming back has been nothing.

Potter has said that publicly too and not totally frozen Aubameyang out in a similar fashion to his final days at Arsenal, though his involvement has clearly been reduced.

The situation has prompted some, and not just those close to Aubameyang, to wonder if he is a victim of the club’s bid to address their wage bill and lowering the age of their squad.

A summer departure now seems inevitable. Because of how things have panned out since he joined that will suit him as much as Chelsea.