When Andre-Pierre Gignac takes the field against Mazatlan on Friday, the Frenchman will be revered more than anyone on the pitch—and perhaps more than any Liga MX import in league history.
Now into his sixth season in Liga MX, the Tigres talisman has shown few signs of slowing in a division he’s dominated since his arrival in 2015. With six goals to his name in as many outings this term—including four in his last three games—Gignac is once again setting the standard in front of goal, a European anomaly in a league largely led by talent from all corners of the Americas.
Those aren’t the only numbers that set him apart from the crowd, though.
At 34, Gignac is at least six years older than eight of the nine other players who have scored three goals or more thus far in the 2020 Apertura. That list is otherwise dotted with players hailing from more local climates like Mexico, Argentina and Uruguay, with nearly each one between the ages of 25 and 28.
That says a lot for a player once doubted for his decision to leave European soccer in his prime, leading to suspicions that money was the main motivator. Instead, Gignac has become the record scorer at Tigres and cemented his place in club lore, with a statue planned as a visceral symbol of that journey:
Opting for Mexico over a more familiar climb on the continent was seen as giving up on the accolades that might have followed. But the tale that’s unfolded between Gignac and Liga MX stands out as a retro reminder of the stories that were once more commonplace in the sport—as well as vindication for his resolution to explore a road less travelled.
It’s not often, after all, that players go on to enjoy their heydays in a foreign continent while being past what is usually perceived to be their peak years.
One could look to examples such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Major League Soccer or Brazilian forward Elkeson in the Chinese Super League, but the former’s prolific time with the LA Galaxy was brief, and Ibrahimovic has in any case enjoyed a decorated career in his native Europe. What’s more, Liga MX supporters would argue their division is of a higher standard than either of those examples.
Gignac was steadily demonstrating his services as an elite-level scorer prior to leaving home country France five summers ago. His Ligue 1 numbers had climbed season-on-season for three terms before his departure, culminating in back-to-back campaigns in which he scored at least 20 goals across all competitions.
It might have been hoped—even expected—that Tigres’ free signing would do well against Liga MX defences. However, few might have anticipated the club success that arrived thanks in part to his impact: a total haul of eight trophies, including three Apertura titles and the 2019 Clausura crown.
Needless to say, Gignac’s acquisition rivals as arguably the most valuable Liga MX signing of all time, as the striker continues to make a mockery of defences in 2020:
The veteran’s first season in Mexico—where he bagged 33 times in 50 appearances—was his highest-scoring campaign to date. The smoke that first signalled Liga MX's new terror had arrived. His tally of 22 goals in 36 appearances over 2019-20 (as well as six assists) equates to 0.61 goals per game, showing little degradation to his output.
And it’s not as though he requires penalties to buffer his figures in front of goal, displaying before the coronavirus pandemic that’s he’s still capable of feats many juniors can only dream:
It’s finishing like the above golazo against Pumas that depict a passion still burning bright in Gignac, a fire one could argue was never truly lit until he found his home in Nuevo Leon. Rather than accept being brandished as a modern-day mercenary, his killer instinct on the field has been honed and sharpened, and the fans at Tigres have loved him for it.
Despite the distance, Gignac—whose contract is set to expire in 2021—still keeps tabs on matters in Europe and displayed his allegiance to former employers Marseille when celebrating Paris Saint-Germain’s loss to Bayern Munich in this season’s UEFA Champions League final:
There’s sure to be no sense of longing for what could have been had he remained, though. Whereas many might have expected the forward to sit back and collect a steady pay check—his first Tigres contract was worth €4 million per year (roughly €75,000 per week)—Gignac has gone on to plunder Liga MX of silverware and will soon be immortalized in bronze himself.
In doing so, he has set a unique example of the heights players can reach when willing to venture outside the norm, working to rewrite the story laid in front of him when he joined Tigres. Gignac arrived in Mexico under the impression he had run from the challenges in Europe, but he’ll leave—whenever that may be—as a legend having commanded the love of legions in Liga MX and abroad.