The Football Front’s Andrew Swan evaluates the recent few years of struggle and glory for Andre –Pierre Gignac.
Andre-Pierre Gignac ended May 2009 as Ligue 1’s top scorer. Fast forward two and a half years and in November 2011 he has been banished to the reserves having scored only one goal in six months. It has been a challenging 30 months for Marseille’s Gignac, known by teammates and friends as Dédé. The 26 year old has endured a rocky career so far with huge peaks and troughs thanks to injuries, international appearances, prolific patches of form and goal scoring, increases in weight and dips in form.
Gignac’s career has seen him travel a great deal around France playing early on for ES Fos-sur-Mer and FC Martigues on the Cote d’Azur where he grew up before moving north to Brittany to join the youth academy of professional club Lorient, a Ligue 2 club at the time. Such a big move for 17 year old Gignac was necessary having been released by FC Martigues. Such a knock to his confidence early on in his career wasn’t noticed as he developed well and found himself promoted to the Lorient senior team in 2004 by then manager Christian Gourcuff. Such faith shown in Gignac by the club and manager was quickly repaid as Gignac scored what proved to be the winning goal on his debut, against Chateauroux. Unfortunately Gignac struggled to settle and fully secure a place in the Lorient first 11 that season and the next season saw him loaned out to Championnat National club Pau. Having dropped to one of the lower tiers of French football, Gignac began to find his feet and his shooting boots and managed 8 goals and 4 assists in his 18 appearances for the Pyrénées-Atlantiques club.
This new found confidence ensured that by the start of the 2006-07 season, Gignac was a mainstay in the Lorient starting 11. The trust in Gignac saw him net a club best 9 goals and provide 5 assists in 37 appearances. Such form had resulted in a number of more prestigious clubs take an interest in the 20 year-old with Lille and Toulouse coming head-to-head over his signature. It was widely reported that Lille had already entered a pre-contract agreement with Lorient. However with the lure of potential Champions League football and an offer of more than double the salary that Lille were prepared to offer, Gignac opted for a return to the south of France with Toulouse.
Unfortunately, as it had with Lorient, Gignac’s form with Toulouse took some time to get going. In his first season Gignac only managed 2 goals, he struggled with weight and confidence issues and sat behind Johan Elmander in the pecking order. Having come to the club in search of first team football and Champions League football, Gignac was undoubtedly disappointed with his first season at Toulouse, as they crashed out of the Champions League 3rd qualifying round 0-5 to Liverpool, and finished the season just one place above the relegation zone. With the departure of Elmander to Bolton over the summer period, Gignac again found himself to be the number one choice and after a solid pre-season found his goal scoring form again. Such form and a continued run in the first team ensured that Gignac finished this season as the Ligue 1 top scorer, and was playing in the French national team after what most would consider his most successful season to date.
After such a successful season it was inevitable that there would be interest from other clubs. Some of Europe’s top clubs were reportedly interested at the time with Arsenal, Manchester United, AC Milan and Olympique Lyonnais all enquiring about Gignac’s services. However, Gignac demonstrated his commitment to Toulouse by signing a contract extension with the club. Next season Gignac picked up where he had left off previously, netting 12 times before Christmas. Unfortunately due to injury, the second half of Gignac’s season was poor in comparison, and he only managed another 4 goals.
Teams were still aware of Gignac’s skill and potential and when Marseille tabled a bid of around €18 million ahead of the 2010-2011 season, neither Toulouse nor Gignac could turn this down. This was going to be the real big chance for Dédé, joining a team who had just won the league and cup double and who were guaranteed Champions League football. The signing was well timed, as shortly after Marseille revealed that they had signed another promising young French player, Loic Remy. It was during the opening months of this season that Gignac’s confidence took another blow. He was struggling for form and goals, criticism from fans and ex-professionals was aimed in his direction. With the support of confident manager Didier Deschamps, Gignac managed to turn his form around after the winter break and scored 8 times. Unfortunately Marseille missed out on the title to Lille during this season, and Gignac’s poor early season form was highlighted from some quarters as being one of the contributing factors for this.
Injury curtailed Gignac’s pre-season training again ahead of the 2011-2012 season and Deschamps sent him away to Italy to a fitness camp (although some dubbed it a ‘fat camp’). After a great deal of hard work Gignac returned to Marseille looking in much better physical shape. In an attempt to regain the Ligue 1 title, Deschamps had begun to employ a new tactical strategy, looking to 4-3-3, and because of the pre-season Remy was the preferred starting striker with Andre Ayew and Lucho Gonzalez making up the remainder of the strike force. This push on Gignac’s confidence came at a time when the whole team was on a poor run of form, with Deschamps’ new tactics failing to bring in the results he hoped. Marseille slumped to one of their worse starts in years and criticism of this was aimed at players, coaches and club officials. It seemed that Deschamp’s faith in Gignac was wearing thin, with his place in the squad seemingly to make up numbers and was given minor bit-parts in games. The pressure of this situation came to a head when, having started the game, Gignac reacted angrily when he was substituted against Olympiakos in the Champions League. He reportedly threw a water bottle, walked immediately to the changing rooms had an argument with Deschamps after Marseille were defeated. This saw Gignac cast out of the Marseille squad to the reserves.
As I mentioned earlier, it has been a long 2 ½ year s for Andre-Pierre Gignac, which has taken its toll emotionally on the player. Gignac has continually proved his doubters wrong on a number of previous occasions, through regaining fitness and form to ensure he can contribute to any team he is a part of. Given the right training regime to help keep fitness levels at their peak and reduce the likelihood of repeat injuries, and given the right mentoring from a suitable coach or management team, Gignac should be able to push for his place in the French international team again. However, with a mixture of exciting prospects and experienced internationals like Kevin Gameiro, Dimitri Payet, Karim Benzema, and Loic Remy currently in his way, he will have to motivate himself, he needs to regain his form and confidence in order to be one of France’s best players again.