Soccer

Tokyo 2020 Olympics soccer: France’s Andre-Pierre Gignac has chance for perfect international swan song

When Andre-Pierre Gignac left boyhood club Olympique de Marseille for Tigres UANL back in the summer of 2015, many expected the switch to mark the beginning of the end of his career with a move away from Europe for a lucrative payday in a less competitive environment.

Just over six years later, not only is the now 35-year-old still in Mexico, but he is thriving in North America and has just welcomed former OM and current Olympic teammate Florian Thauvin to Estadio Universitario in Nuevo Leon after leaving France.

The 28-year-old is not the first Frenchman to join Gignac in San Nicolas de los Garza: Andy Delort and Timothee Kolodziejczak both tried to follow in his footsteps while Jeremy Menez joined Club America, but Thauvin is arguably the highest profile compatriot that Tigres have managed to snare since their talismanic No. 10’s arrival.

Gignac’s rebirth and something of a second career in Mexico is the stuff of legend with the man from Martigues revered by Tigres fans and respected by opponents for what he has brought to their domestic game by spending his prime years in Liga MX.

“What is great about both Marseille and Tigres is that the passion is the same,” he told RMC Sport earlier this year. “….I do not regret my choice because it was driven by passion and nothing else.”

Back in 2015, a rejuvenated Gignac was coming off the back of an exceptional individual Ligue 1 season with Marseille and a 21-goal haul — second to Alexandre Lacazette — as Marcelo Bielsa’s men fell agonizingly short of UEFA Champions League qualification when he decided to join Tigres.

Greeted by wild scenes as he arrived in Mexico, Gignac’s form under Bielsa (who also left months later) at Stade Velodrome had put him back into contention for France’s UEFA Euro 2016 squad on home soil and a fast start to life with his new club helped to keep him in the reckoning.

Gignac’s international career threatened to end in ignominy as one of his final actions for his country was to hit the post at the death against Portugal in the Euro 2016 final which condemned them to extra time and an eventual 1-0 loss as Eder scored the only goal of the game.

However, the Olympic Games in Tokyo have now offered Gignac a deserved shot at redemption and he will find himself captaining his country against the nation that has been his home for the best part of the last 10 years.

“I could stay and live here, that does not scare me,” said the ex-FC Lorient and Toulouse FC man of his adopted homeland and dual nationality quest. “I have a quality of life here that I would not in France. I want to have the same nationality as my two children as the last two are Franco-Mexican.

I am not snubbing France — it is my country. I am very proud to be French. However, I would like to have the same nationality as my kids.”

Gignac has won nine pieces of silverware with Tigres: three consecutive Apertura crowns, one Clausura, three straight Campeon de Campeones and one Campeones Cup as well as the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League which gained FIFA Club World Cup entry.

The Mexicans narrowly fell short against Hansi Flick’s all-conquering Bayern Munich side, but Gignac still won the silver ball and two man of the match awards, and he also had a stunning acrobatic goal in contention for FIFA’s 2020 Puskas Award which was ultimately won by Heung-min Son.

Now 35 and still under contract until 2024, Gignac arguably still has some time left to win a couple more trophies with Tigres before potentially calling it a day and Thauvin’s arrival should boost those chances even more in the short-term.

Olympic gold with his country, though, would be difficult to top at this late stage and it would also be the perfect international sign off with a measure of redemption after 2016 before playing out the rest of days at club level in North America or perhaps returning home for one final swan song.

Gignac has said in the past that wants to create a “beautiful soccer school for underprivileged children in Monterrey” which he is already working on so it is unlikely that this summer’s adventure, which starts against Mexico this midweek, will be the end of this story — regardless of the result.



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