The Strange Case of Andre-Pierre Gignac: A French Forward Who Picked Liga MX Over Europe

It was not a textbook strike, but Andre-Pierre Gignac’s outrageous second-half goal against Tijuana last weekend was another chapter in his Mexican fairytale at Tigres UANL. The hosts had been fairly toothless – two Dayro Moreno goals and a Rafael Sobis sending off down – when at 71 minutes, Gignac’s propulsive right foot laser-guided an audacious banana-curved lob from 35 meters beyond Federico Vilar into the net.

Gignac’s goal demonstrated the striker’s instinct. Vilar had been marginally off his goal line, anticipating Tigres danger in his penalty box, but instead Gignac sensed that the loose ball was his chance (for a moment he was left unmarked) and he pounced. His strike was executed to perfection, a true PlayStation goal and not a figment of an over-heated football mind.

The home fans serenaded their French star striker, chanting his name to the tune of The Beatles. Gignac celebrated with pumped fists and ran back to the center circle. He demanded the crowd’s support. His gesture spoke to his own succes story since arriving at Los Felinos in June. His desire and dedication have shined bright; Gignac has become a true asset for Tigres.

It’s a far cry from the taunts about his mushy appearance and weight, which he faced during his dark days in Ligue 1. Gignac began his career in the French top-flight at Lorient before he flourished at Toulouse, scoring 24 goals during the 2008/09 season. He failed to maintain his scoring prowess, though, and soon chants of “A Big Mac for Gignac” would roll remorselessly from the stands, contributing to his image as an unseemly and unprofessional player.

Marcelo Bielsa’s arrival at Marseille was a seminal moment for Gignac, who had moved to the club of his childhood yearnings in 2010. Bielsa told the striker that he would score plenty of goals in the upcoming 2014/15 season if he lost a few pounds. Gignac did just that and scored 21 goals, more than Paris Saint-Germain strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani.

Photo by Noe Garcia Sanchez
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Gignac’s prolific season didn’t translate into an extended stay at Marseille; he left the team after five seasons and 59 goals. Marseille implemented austerity measures, and Gignac (along with Bielsa) departed alongside a group of core players. At the age of 29, Gignac’s future destination bewildered observers – Tigres in Mexico. They sought to explain his abrupt emigration through a perceived desire for easy money and a history of unprofessionalism, even though he had received offers from numerous European clubs, including Olympique Lyon.

Yet Gignac quickly became somewhat of a cult figure in San Nicolás de la Garza. He settled down and excelled under coach Ricardo “El Tuca” Ferretti, whose penchant is volatility. Ferretti wants his team to have possession and exploit spaces in the final third of the field. It’s not an easy job for a striker, who must be patient, read the game, and work hard.

Gignac links up well with Brazilian attaching force Rafael Sobis. So far, he has scored 21 goals in 26 matches for Tigres. Last December, Gignac guided Tigres to a dramatic penalty shout-out win against Pumas UNAM to clinch the 2015 Apertura championship. In the summer, the Copa Libertadores final defeat against Argentina’s River Plate had been a profound disappointment, but Gignac hadn’t been integrated yet and lacked match rhythm at the time.

AP Photo by Christian Palma
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Gignac’s outstanding performances didn’t go unnoticed; France coach Didier Deschamps recalled Gignac for Les Bleus’ friendlies against Germany and England last November. Back in 2011, the pair had fallen out when Gignac booted a bottle from across the locker room, following Deschamps’ decision to leave him out of the Champions League Olympique Marseille-Olympiakos game, according to French sports daily L’Equipe. A rebellious Gignac declared his coach had been dishonest.

Against Germany, Gignac substituted Oliver Giroud midway in the second half. He scored a fine header in the dying minutes of a game largely overshadowed by the terrorist atrocities in the French capital. The goal helped Gignac to further resurrect his international career. Gignac is not one of Les Bleus’ main striking options – he’s behind both Karim Benzema and Giroud in the pecking order – but if he continues his fine form at Tigres, he may very well make Deschamps’ squad for EURO2016.