Long Reads

André-Pierre Gignac: a Tigres Hero Born in France

Back in 2015, Andre-Pierre Gignac was on the move; the French striker had starred for FC Toulouse and Marseille in Ligue 1 and the next chapter in his career looked set to be with a move to a bigger European club with Lyon and Inter Milan both muted as possible destinations. Gignac though surprised everyone when he took the decision to pen an initial three year deal with Tigres in Liga MX.

Life in the lower leagues

Gignac came through the system in France serving his formative years with teams who were local to him in Fos and Martigues before a move to Ligue 2 side Lorient at the age of 17. Two years of academy football followed before his professional debut came courtesy of a substitute appearance in August 2004 – aged 19 – where he scored the winner in a narrow 2-1 victory over Châteauroux. A run in the side never materialised though and despite making 13 appearances, Gignac only managed a solitary start and two goals.

Lorient boss Christian Gourcuff opted to send Gignac out on loan the following season where he netted eight goals in 20 appearances for Pau in the third tier. It proved a valuable coming of age process for Gignac and his career took off on his return as his parent club won promotion to Ligue 1 in his absence.

Stepping up in style

Gignac, who by now was 21, became a key figure for Lorient as they finished 14th in Ligue 1, 10 points clear of relegation. The powerful forward top scored for the team with nine goals in 37 appearances and his performances earned him a move to Toulouse – much to the anger of Lille, who also wanted Gignac.

Toulouse had finished in third place in the 2006/07 campaign but Gignac struggled to tie down a starting place and only contributed two goals as his new team narrowly avoided relegation. French media outlets and the Toulouse supporters began to question the motives of Gignac with many feeling he had let the money go to his head – Toulouse having offered Gignac twice the wages of Lille when he transferred – with his fitness being called into question.

If there were doubters out there ahead of the next season then Gignac quickly set about silencing his critics as he top scored in Ligue 1 with 24 goals – as well as adding another two in the cup – and he proved in the 2009/10 that his goal scoring prowess was no flash in the pan. Injuries prevented Gignac competing for the golden boot but his eight goals were still more than any other Toulouse player managed and a £15m move to Marseille – and a five year contract – was arranged.

Master of Marseille – eventually 

Gignac hardly hit the ground running in Marseille with insults thrown his way after a tepid first few months but a decent second half to his first year with the club, which saw him net 13 goals and seven assists in 41 matches across the entire season, settled any growing aggravation – but only for a little while. The 2011/12 campaign saw Gignac linked with a move to England with Fulham and Sunderland – who were both Premier League clubs at the time –interested but the deals never progressed and Gignac was perceived to have thrown his toys out of the pram. As a result, he spent the majority of his season in the reserves and grabbed just a single league goal.

Most people would have believed Gignac was finished at Marseille but the next campaign brought a new man and he fired in 13 league goals – plus five in other competitions – as The Olympians finished second, 12 points behind PSG and the next season saw Gignac set off like a train as he hit three goals in as many matches and averaged a goal ratio of one in two across his 44 appearances that season as he was a near ever present in the side – but for the odd niggle and suspension.

What followed in 2014/15 proved to be Gignac’s last season for Marseille and,  whilst fans were on his back during his early days, it’s fair to say they were sad to see him leave – especially for nothing – as he racked up a remarkable 21 Ligue 1 goals to take his overall tally in Marseille to 77 goals and 13 assists in 188 matches.

Money over football

By the time the summer of 2015 rolled around Gignac had 21 French caps under his belt and he was strongly tipped to join one of Lyon, who had just finished second in Ligue 1, or Italian giants Inter Milan. Instead, Gignac surprised everyone and signed for Mexican club Tigres.

Gignac was 29 at the time of the move and was branded, not for the first time in his career, a mercenary who had given up on his chance to add further France caps to his name.

Sticking it to the doubters

Gignac insisted during his unveiling that his motivation was purely a footballing decision and stated his desire to score the goals that would take Tigres to both domestic and continental glory. He wasted no time in showing his new fans – and there are a lot – what he was all about either as he notched 32 goals in 46 games during his inaugural season – with the 13 he scored in the Clausura enough to see him win the golden boot – to help Tigres to the Liga MX title.

On an individual basis, Gignac was named as player of the year after turning in a consistently high level of performance and, as a result, the international career that was ‘over’ when he turned his back on European football suddenly became very real again as Didier Deschamps named Gignac in his Euro 2016 squad. The Tigres striker wasn’t just there to make up the numbers either and he featured in six of the seven games including the final. Although France lost out in extra time to Portugal, Gignac had proven that he could play in Mexico and still operate at the elite level.

Since then, Gignac has remained loyal to Tigres and he has gone on to establish himself as a legend of the club. His lowest goal return for a season is 21 with his overall tally a Tigres record of 125 in 219 appearances, which has helped the club to 10 major honours with the potential of a further win to follow.

As well as showing the world that the Mexican league isn’t a dumping ground for washed up money grabbers, Gignac has endeared himself to Tigres fans through a combination of his work ethic, strike rate and, also, with the regular quality of goal that he scores. Beyond statistics, it was confirmed in 2019 that he’ll be immortalised into the Tigres history books by way of a statue – and we can’t think of a more fitting tribute for Mexico’s greatest ever import.

Not bad for a move that was initially ridiculed, hey?