The Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon will be many things to many men, but for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, could it represent something of an audition for the chance to fulfil a lifelong ambition?
It’s no secret that the Central African hitman has a burning desire to play for Real Madrid.
He has discussed it on several occasions, while at times it can seem as though his mother only ever talks about how her boy once promised his granddad that he’d one day pull on the famous white of Los Merengues.
These things always work better when there’s a story behind them, and while Robbie Keane was regularly ridiculed for declaring that every new employer in his storied career was the ‘club of his dreams’, for ‘Auba’ there genuinely appears to be a sense of brooding destiny about a possible switch to the Spanish capital.
And yet those dreams appeared to be ended - or at least put on ice - when Fifa ruled in January that Los Blancos were banned from signing new players for two transfer windows after the club was found guilty of breaching the rules over the transfer of underage foreign players.
The sanction as it originally stood prevented Real from recruiting until - at the earliest - January 2018, although with clubs typically unwilling to spend big in mid-season, it meant that Zinedine Zidane would likely have to wait until the summer after next season before making significant refreshments to his squad.
The other option would have been to sign new stars this coming summer, keep them on the shelf for six months, and then register them to play in January.
It may have worked for Barcelona with Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal, but it’s hard to see a superstar like Aubameyang sacrificing six months of his career - especially with his form so hot at the moment.
Ostensibly, it meant that the Gabon forward would be 29 before he could play for his beloved Blanco … .maybe some dreams just aren’t meant to be!
However, the landscape changed after the Court of Arbitration for Sport confirmed on 20 December that they had decided to partially uphold Real’s appeal against the ban, reducing their punishment to the January 2017 transfer window.
This means that Los Merengues will be able to trade in the summer, and it may well bring Auba back to the forefront of the domestic giants’ thoughts.
Based on his form last season and so far this campaign, he’d surely be a remarkable addition for the reigning European champions.
Last term he managed 25 goals in 31 Bundesliga matches, and he’s followed that up (at the time of writing) with 16 goals in 14 outings so far this campaign.
It’s a remarkable testament to the man’s consistency and taste for a goal, and they are the kinds of numbers that will surely appeal to a club like Real, who consistently seek to invest in the game’s top talents.
Yet despite a fine recent record in the Champions League this season - Auba scored four of BVB’s record-breaking group stage haul of 21 goals - some aren’t convinced of his talents.
Bizarrely, for example, the attacker finished last in the public vote for the BBC Footballer of the Year award. It’s not a viable barometer to rank the continent’s top stars, but doubters still exist.
For those who are currently uncertain about the attacker’s value, the Afcon offers Auba another opportunity to prove to his prospective suitors that he can boast the kind of character, charisma and leadership skills that aren’t found in abundance in many of the planet’s other world-class strikers.
Similarly, he can demonstrate that he has an aura - that intangible quality often sought out in would-be Galacticos - and that he can inspire those around him.
Gabon, on home soil once again, will be dreaming of a maiden continental success next year. Aubameyang, with Real watching on, may have his eyes on an even bigger prize.
By Ed Dove
@EddyDove on Twitter