Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang announced his international retirement on Wednesday, and while his decision to step away from the Gabon national side may signal the end of an era, it may not necessarily be for the worst.
"I must accept the decision of Pierre-Emerick against my will," head coach Patrice Neveu said. "He's the greatest player in Gabon [but] his decision is the product of some reflection. I met him in Barcelona and we must remember that he played for the national side for 13 years, so he will always be welcome to support his teammates."
Fond words, certainly, but rarely, among African greats, have the achievements of a club career been in such stark contrast to those of the same player at international level, and it's hard to find too much in the way of a tangible Aubameyang legacy with the Panthers.
UEFA Champions League winners Nwankwo Kanu, Mohamed Salah and Michael Essien all made the Africa Cup of Nations final and played in the World Cup, while Egyptian trio Mohamed Aboutrika, Wael Gomaa and Essam El Hadary coupled back-to-back AFCON triumphs with domestic glory and dominance in CAF club competitions.
Didier Drogba and Sammy Kuffour were both Champions League winners and multiple finalists who did not win the Nations Cup, and their international failings are well documented, but they were part of the squads that qualified Ivory Coast and Ghana respectively for their first World Cup. They made history, and they each left a legacy in international football as well as club football.
Aubameyang's Gabon admittedly are not traditional contenders -- they are No. 81 in the FIFA world rankings -- but similar situations didn't prevent the likes of George Weah, Emmanuel Adebayor and even Seydou Keita from leaving lasting impressions in international football with Liberia, Togo and Mali respectively.
Weah inspired Liberia to reach AFCON tournaments -- the only instances they've qualified -- and took them remarkably close to the 2002 World Cup, while Adebayor inspired Togo to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Keita's place in Africa's pantheon is due primarily to his role in Pep Guardiola's all-conquering Barcelona team of 2008-12, but he did nonetheless inspire Mali to four AFCON semifinals (they've not since reached the quarters) during his 17-year international career.
By contrast, Aubameyang's 13-year stop-start stint with Gabon has been mottled with controversy, tensions and setbacks -- precious little to show for all of the anguish and air miles to go with his 30 goals at international level. And it's notable that the only "good memory" referenced in his open letter to announce his international retirement was the day he "came back from Nigeria with the African Ballon d'Or" in 2016 -- a very individual triumph.
Aubameyang became the reference point for Gabonese sporting excellence, the country's ambassador to the world, but it was for what he did in European football not African football.
"In terms of visibility, he is a major asset," Gabon Football Federation Head of Media Pablo Moussodji Ngoma told ESPN. "Aubameyang with the Panthers is that image of the national team that the media always sought. From a sporting point of view, he was the player who made opponents afraid, and the one who could change the situation at any moment."
And yet only two international highlights stand out since his decision to shun Spain, Italy and France -- whom he represented at youth level -- to follow in his father's footsteps and commit to the Central Africans in 2009. Both came a decade ago, and both ended in disappointment.
At the 2012 Nations Cup on home soil, he scored three goals during the group stage and, ultimately, was one of seven players who tied for the Golden Boot.
Still making a name for himself with Saint-Etienne, his trio of goals begun to earn him the admiration of a Gabonese public who hadn't entirely trusted his commitment after he'd previously represented France at under-21 level.
The Panthers topped their group ahead of Tunisia and Morocco, but their bid to win the cup ended in the quarterfinals in Libreville -- with Auba the only player of 10 penalty takers to miss in the shootout defeat by Mali.
Later that year, he spearheaded Gabon's challenge at the Olympic Games in London.
Again, there were memorable moments -- he scored Gabon's first Olympic goal to equalise against Switzerland at St James' Park -- but he could only toil in the sun as the Panthers failed to find the winner they needed in their final group game against South Korea.
Ultimately, that was as good as it got for Aubameyang in the yellow of Gabon; aged 23 and only three years into his international career.
He may have scored consistently since -- he was on target for the Panthers every year for the past decade -- but thereafter he won only one game at a major tournament: A 2-0 victory over Burkina Faso in an AFCON 2015 group game.
Gabon didn't qualify for the Nations Cups of 2013 or 2019, and they crashed out in the opening round of 2015 and 2017 -- becoming the first AFCON hosts to fall at the first hurdle; Gabon did not threaten to make a World Cup appearance during the striker's time in the selection.
The 2017 AFCON was the nadir of Auba's international experience, with the Gabonese federation's decision ahead of the tournament to fire the squad's technical team -- which included the striker's father, Pierre -- creating a rift between star player and FA that overshadowed the Panthers' performance in front of their own fans.
It was a decision taken as a personal slight by the forward, undermining his best chance of truly making a mark on the tournament, and prompted him to boycott the Gabonese media.
At 27, he was in his prime, having made the Confederation of African Football Team of the Year for the previous four years, made the German Bundesliga Team of the Season and clinched the Golden Boot in 2017, and won the German league's Player of the Year award in 2016.
A lazy argument is to suggest that Auba was hamstrung by the team around him, but the likes of Didier Ovono, Bruno Ecuele Manga, Ibrahima N'Dong, Mario Lemina and Andre Poko represented a strong spine married with exciting attacking talents in Denis Bouanga and Malick Evouna. Lesser sides have reached the final four of the Nations Cup, and Gabon's group-stage elimination in 2017 was a bitter humiliation, exacerbated when neighbours Cameroon won the tournament.
With Gabon going through a post-electoral crisis, the decision of Aubameyang -- a genuine symbol for the country's population -- to shun the national media and refuse to speak about the country's political climate prompted a certain distance to grow between player and public.
The criticism prompted Aubameyang to take a hiatus from the national side, and he played just once for the Panthers between January 2017 and September 2018, a period in which he rejected an invitation to join the squad for a World Cup qualifier against Ivory Coast.
The Panthers ultimately lost the match 3-0 in Libreville -- their first defeat of the qualifying campaign -- and while Auba returned for the October 2017 showdown with Morocco, the damage had been done.
Aubameyang's decision to stay away emboldened critics who had questioned his commitment to the cause and inability to settle matches as consistently for Gabon as he did for Borussia Dortmund.
In subsequent years, he generated headlines within African football for leading Gabon's complaints when they had to spend a night in Banjul airport in The Gambia due to an administrative problem. The then-Arsenal striker live-streamed parts of their all-nighter, and was duly fined $US10,000 for tarnishing the "honour and image" of CAF.
The Nations Cup in Cameroon earlier this year was a miserable experience.
Aubameyang tested positive for coronavirus upon arrival, and was prevented from returning to the side, despite returning a negative test result, after failing CAF's medical assessment; he was then sent home prematurely in order to undergo further evaluation.
Adding insult to injury, elements of the Gabonese media accused Aubameyang and the departing Lemina of unprofessional behaviour during their confinement in Yaounde, prompting backlash from both players in the aftermath of their exit from Cameroon.
Gabon were more vibrant and united without Aubameyang than they had been in a decade. Perhaps bound by a sense of injustice at their skipper's absence, perhaps afforded a little more licence without the need to feed Auba, the Panthers side featuring fresh and hungry prospects such as Aaron Boupendza and Jim Allevinah reached the knockouts for the first time since 2012.
Against the backdrop of the degradation of his relationship with Arsenal, obituaries were written for Aubameyang's career only for his fortunes to improve dramatically, to his credit, after a mid-season switch to Barcelona.
"I think the national team is stronger with him," Ngoma told ESPN. "He has sparked the progress of several players who were proud to play alongside him. However, the likes of Boupendza, Bouanga and Allevinah have begun to take up the baton, based on the group's performances at the Nations Cup."
Many of African football's biggest figures have announced their international retirement only to retract the decision and return to fight another day.
So don't be too surprised if Aubameyang -- still only 32 -- returns for one last shot at international glory given he is rediscovering his mojo with Barca and there is another AFCON on the horizon next year.
If he doesn't, and if his Indian summer in Europe is not to be replicated in Africa, then his international career will be remembered as one that promised much but ultimately ended in frustration and regret.