Andre-Pierre Gignac isn’t your textbook European soccer player – after all, the Frenchman turned down offers from Inter and Lyon to play in Liga MX, is vocal about his love for Mexico, and completely fluent in Spanish. And while doom scenarios were lined up when the striker chose to ply his trade in Monterrey, after his first season with Tigres Gignac has been vindicated.
Today, players are often toys in intricate and profit-driven negotiations between clubs, agents and third-parties. These all want a slice of the dollar-cake, sometimes to the detriment of the player. Gignac was always going to leave Olympique de Marseille after a fruitful time under Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa – that wasn’t a secret, but the fact that he snubbed major European clubs, including Olympique Lyon and Inter Milan, and even the stacks of Arabian petro-dollars of Al Nasr, was a surprise.
Outsiders considered Tigres – by European standards a little-known club – a suicidal pick, one that would end any grand ambitions Gignac may have harbored. But the striker discovered a league that was as competitive and refined as France’s Ligue 1.
In Liga MX, Gignac has demonstrated his striker’s instinct ample times. He is a thoroughly professional and dedicated player, no longer garnering the “A Big Mac for Gignac” chants – a dig he got after 2011 reports that his former manager put him on a weight loss program. In Mexico, he won his first league title and was voted Liga MX player of the season.
The 30-year-old is profoundly in love with his newly adopted home country. He has gone as far as saying that he wants to become a Mexican, because he feels at home, and so does his family. “I am proud of being a ‘new’ Mexican, because my son was born here in Monterrey.” said Gignac recently. “Hopefully in a year’s time I can have the Mexican nationality. I would be proud. I feel at home here.”
Gignac’s integration at Tigres and in Monterrey has been swift and smooth, but, then, the Frenchman is not your ordinary soccer player.
Gignac’s integration at Tigres and in Monterrey has been swift and smooth, but, then, the Frenchman is not your ordinary soccer player. For starters, he doesn’t have any tattoos, a ubiquitous feature in the contemporary game that is frowned upon by the conservative Tuca Ferreti. He is also proud of his heritage and identifies as a ‘Manouche,’ the term for French Romani people. He is both a symbol and crusader for his community, which, in the past has produced a number of European soccer greats, including New York City FC’s Andrea Pirlo and Bulgarian and FC Barcelona star Hristo Stoichkov. Gignac is the first Manouche international for France.
It is precisely that feat that may be Gignac’s biggest triumph, more so than his many contributions at club level for Tigres. Indeed, the striker’s excellent outings in Liga MX didn’t go unnoticed back home and Les Bleus Didier Deschamps recalled Gignac for Les Bleus’ friendlies against Germany and England last November.
Back in 2011, ‘DD’ and Gignac had fallen out after the player booted a bottle from across the locker room following Deschamps’ decision to leave him out of the Champions League Olympique Marseille-Olympiakos game. A rebellious Gignac declared his coach had been dishonest.
“There is no animosity between us,” Gignac told France Football a few weeks ago. “Apart from 10 minutes of tension in a dressing room [at Marseille], there never was any problem. He [Deschamps] is a man of integrity, who is totally independent when it comes to making choices, be it with Les Bleus or his club. He showed it when he asked me back into the French national team.”
Gignac is now a part of Deschamps’s elite 23 final squad, who will represent France during Euro 2016. In France’s two last friendlies, against Cameroon and Scotland respectively, he got two 25-minutes cameos from the bench. He nearly scored with his first touch against the Scots as France ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
There is little chance of Gignac deputizing in the tournament’s opening match against Romania. He remains an understudy to Oliver Giroud in the number nine position. The Arsenal striker has not been consistent though, and in the absence of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema – banned over blackmail and a sex tape – Gignac is bound to get his chance. When he does, Gignac should add plenty of firepower to the French line-up.