For the last five years it seems that Andre-Pierre Gignac has been destined to play in the English Premier League. Back in 2011, the burly forward was in London after completing a medical with Fulham, but Olympique de Marseille’s failure to sign a replacement scuppered the deal and Le Big Mac made his return to the Stade Velodrome.
That was after he had scored just eight goals in 30 games in Ligue 1, for a 26-year-old in the prime of his career, his stock was fairly low in France. No one could have predicted the path his career would take.
This week, the striker, who turns 31 years old in December, has been linked with a summer move to Stoke City and for the Midlands side that have turned heads in England this season, Gignac could be the perfect fit.
Life at Marseille picked up. In three seasons he scored 50 goals in 104 games – including the 21 strikes under Marcelo Bielsa last term. His form under the Argentine coach sparked rumours of a big move to England. Tottenham Hotspur had been linked, Liverpool mentioned, a far cry from joining Martin Jol at Craven Cottage.
In an unexpected move, Gignac agreed to join Mexican side Tigres UNAL – earning a reported $4-4.5 million per season – it came out of the blue and at the time no one quite knew why. Nine months later, no one is looking at the move with raised eyebrows.
As of February, Gignac had scored 22 goals in 27 league appearances, leading Tigres to a Liga MX title and it has forced Didier Deschamps to recall the forward into the French national team.
"I think he's the best player in the Mexican league," said ESPN's Tom Marshall, who lives in Guadalajara covering Liga MX. "He's just taken to playing for Tigres like he joined Real Madrid. He just absolutely seems to love it."
“The amount of goals he's scored — in a variety of ways — has endeared him to the Tigres faithful. It's easy for a fan base to fall head over heels for a productive striker, but what Gignac, a World Cup veteran, has accomplished in less than a year at his new club has altered the way the league and continent now views Tigres.”
Under Deschamps, Gignac’s place in the national team has never been assured. Exiled for three years after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he was recalled in 2013, but again would miss out for a whole year on two occasions, that was until the 2015 friendly against Germany.
Gignac scored in the 2-0 win over the World Champions and his continued form in Mexico has not gone unnoticed.
"It shows that it wasn't all that bad a decision to exile myself a bit, 10,000 kilometres away from France," he told a news conference in November. "The Mexican league is one where at the back they're very tough. There are stubborn players from Argentina, Colombia and Brazil.
"In midfield there are some lively smaller players and in attack there are some good goal scorers, whether they're from Mexico, Brazil or Argentina.
"And I really think that too because from what I've seen every weekend they're every bit as good as some Ligue 1 clubs."
The ongoing court case between Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena has opened a space in the squad. Alexandre Lacazette’s form has been up and down and Olivier Giroud – seen as Gignac’s main competitor for France – suffered his worse run of form for Arsenal this season.
Although it may not bring the same level of excitement as the Premier League, Ligue 1 is known for its tough defenders, well-organised opponents and physical battles. Gignac, in the form of his life, may fancy one last challenge, moving back to Europe to take on England’s defences.
His traits are quite similar to Giroud in many ways, but he has a stronger upper-body and is arguably a better finisher in front of goal. Provide him with the creativity of Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay and the unpredictability of Marko Arnautovic and he could be a devastating weapon for Mark Hughes’ side.
The 30-year-old is part of the France squad that will take on both Russia and Netherlands this weekend as Les Bleus prepare to host the European Championships this summer. Gignac has a great chance of playing a huge part in their squad this summer and that in turn could spark a whole host of Premier League clubs battling with Stoke for his signature before the start of the new season.