Football Features

How rejecting Inter and Lyon set Andre-Pierre Gignac on his way to Tigres immortality

By CJ Smith

How rejecting Inter and Lyon set Andre-Pierre Gignac on his way to Tigres immortality

Published: 12:04, 10 February 2021

In the summer of 2015, Pierre-Andre Gignac was a man in high demand.

The clinical striker was coming fresh off a 2014/15 campaign in which he had scored 21 goals in 38 Ligue 1 appearances for Marseille, with only Alexandre Lacazette (27) outscoring Gignac as he fired Les Phoceens to fourth in the table.

That campaign was the culmination of an upward trend in the striker’s career. After managing league goal totals of just eight and one (ouch) in his first two seasons with Marseille, Gignac netted 13 and 16 times across the 2012/13 and 2013/14 campaigns, respectively, setting himself up for a stellar 2014/15.

Gignac had also fought his way back into international contention with France but, despite being such hot property at the time, player and club could not agree on a new contract, and the former Toulouse striker made clear his intention to leave Marseille, then managed by Marcelo Bielsa, as early as December 2014.

“I think I will leave at the end of the season,” he said. “I want to know if (coach Marcelo) Bielsa will stay, but I want a big challenge. I will consider all proposals carefully.”

Gignac name-dropped Inter Milan as a potential destination, while the likes of Lyon, West Ham, Newcastle United, West Brom and Dynamo Moscow were all linked with him at one time or another. With that in mind, the decision to join Mexican giants Tigres UANL in June 2015 was one which caught most in Europe off-guard.

Despite hosting the most successful sides in CONCACAF, including the likes of Club America, Chivas and Monterrey, aside from Tigres, Liga MX has never quite had the same appeal or attracted the same level of wider curiosity as its neighbour in the north, Major League Soccer. As such, given the level of interest surrounding Gignac, then only 29 years old, there were those who accused the 36-time France international of making the move for financial reasons — Gignac joined Tigres on an initial deal worth $4m per season, making him the highest-paid player in Mexico.

In the six seasons since he crossed the Atlantic, it’s safe to say Gignac has been on a one-man mission to prove his doubters wrong.

To date, the now-35-year-old Gignac has scored no fewer than 147 goals in 246 appearances across all competitions for Tigres, establishing himself as the club’s record goalscorer and proving the catalyst for an unprecedented era of success in San Nicolas de los Garza. Since his arrival, Tigres have won four league titles (3x Apertura, 1x Clausura), three Campeon de Campeones crowns, the 2018 Campeones Cup and, most recently, the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League — the club’s long-awaited first triumph in that competition after final defeats in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

Gignac was the Golden Boot winner during the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League with six goals, while he scored the winner in the 2-1 final win over LAFC. The fact he has scored in three of the tournament’s finals only serves to further illustrate the sheer impact he’s had on the Mexican game. In short, Gignac is a legend.

“For Tigres fans, Gignac is a massively popular figure,” Cesar Hernandez of the Mexican Soccer Show podcast told Squawka when asked of the player’s influence on the Tigres fanbase.

“In a roster filled with highly talented players that could easily make up the core of a potential Liga MX all-star team, Gignac has constantly found a way to stand out. Tigres fans absolutely love him for not only consistently scoring and bringing titles, but for also embracing his new Mexican lifestyle.

“He quickly picked up Spanish, became a Mexican citizen, and has proudly boasted about his kids growing up in the region. Speaking of kids, a 2019 report from MedioTiempo claimed that over 40 kids from Nuevo Leon have a registered name that is inspired by Gignac. Safe to say fans love him, and he’s reciprocated that love back. He’s brought titles, he’s already had a Tigres-inspired tattoo, and seems to be genuinely happy in his new home country.”

Relevant Sky Bet odds for Bayern Munich vs Tigres: 

  • Andre Pierre Gignac to score first 17/2
  • Andre Pierre Gignac to score anytime 14/5
  • Andre Pierre Gignac to score and Tigres win 14/1
  • Andre Pierre Gignac to score 2+ 25/1

All odds stated in this article are accurate at the time of publication (12:00, 10/02/2021). You have to be 18+ to gamble. BeGambleAware

On where Gignac lands in the conversation of Liga MX’s greatest-ever players, Hernandez adds: “We’ve seen plenty of arguments regarding whether he’s the greatest player from outside the country, the greatest striker, or simply just the greatest. I think it’s far too early to say that he’s the definite greatest in Liga MX, but he’s undoubtedly in the running.

“He’s definitely brought more attention from abroad, especially when you consider that he was born in France and that he could still be playing for an elite European team. That said, the league has plenty of room for growth and needs more players of his calibre to continue propelling it forward.”

Ascending above legend?

From Lionel Messi to Diego Maradona, the true icons of football never know when they’re done and there are always higher mountains to scale for those willing to go the distance. In his particular corner of the footballing world, Gignac is on the cusp of doing just that.

Once again, it was he who was the hero as Tigres came from behind to beat Ulsan Hyundai 2-1 in the second round of the delayed 2020 Club World Cup, scoring a first-half brace to send the South Korean side packing. That set up a semi-final glamour tie with Brazilian side and Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras in an attractive game, but one most expected Tigres to ultimately lose.

As always, Gignac had other ideas. A wonderful Tigres performance saw the Mexican side enjoy 51% of possession and outshoot their Brazilian counterparts 8-7, while a mammoth defensive effort comprising of 16 tackles, 17 interceptions and 19 clearances kept the Libertadores holders at bay. But, of course, it was Gignac who had the final say.

With the game poised at 0-0, Tigres were awarded a penalty as Carlos Gonzalez was dragged down in the box. After already being denied by goalkeeper Weverton on a number of occasions, Gignac calmly stepped up and drilled the ball into the bottom corner, just beyond the reach of the Brazilian’s outstretched arms. Tigres held out to become the first-ever CONCACAF team to reach the Club World Cup final. The reward? A mouth-watering clash with European and German champions Bayern Munich, Robert Lewandowksi, Joshua Kimmich et al.

“We finally achieved an international title,” tournament MVP Gignac said after the CONCACAF Champions League final.

“I always wanted to win it even though some say it is not worth much. It is worth going to a Club World Cup, and it is worth playing against the best teams from each continent. Today it is Tigres’ turn.”

Following the win over Ulsan, he proclaimed: “We know we’re capable of making history and want to do so”.

If the veteran striker can inspire Tigres to an unlikely, iconic victory over Bayern Munich, then Ricardo Ferretti’s side will become the first-ever CONCACAF team to win the tournament, and he will transcend legendary status, sealing immortality.

Today is Tigres’ turn. Today is Gignac’s turn.