The FIFA Club World Cup doesn’t quite offer the level of prestige it sounds like it should do at face value, but that doesn’t render it pointless.
In fact, the Club World Cup is often a good way for neutrals to take a peek at football teams they would otherwise never come across. As the ‘World Cup’ moniker suggests, sides from all corners of the world take part, and while it is often seen as a breeze for the UEFA Champions League winner who takes part, it is a monumental feat for other competitors from each continent.
Having won the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League to qualify, Mexican side Tigres UANL have gone all the way and sealed their place in the final against Bayern Munich on 11 February. A 54th minute penalty scored by Andre-Pierre Gignac was enough to see them past Brazilian side and Copa Libertadores winners Palmeiras in the semi-final.
Gignac is the club’s leading scorer having joined in 2015 and already has three goals from two CWC games for Tigres on their way to the final. How did he end up in Mexico, though, and who is he?
Here’s all the bits you need to know about Gignac, the forgotten French talisman.
Gignac is no new kid on the block.
The 35-year-old spent what many would’ve called his ‘peak years’ in is native France. And while his record there wasn’t bad – the best of it being 77 goals in 188 games for Marseille – it doesn’t come close to what he has achieved in more recent years since making the unlikely move to Liga MX.
In a European game so reliant on pace and flair, it’s becoming increasingly rare to see forwards who are pure strikers and nothing more. Gignac is exactly that, and scores goals for fun.
A powerhouse of a player, the Frenchman is explosive and lethal when fed the ball in the box. His awareness of the goal is unmatched and allows him to create angles from nothing, while his frame keeps him aerially dominant, too.
Watching him and Robert Lewandowski on the same pitch will be truly fascinating.
Aged 29 and believed to be at the absolute peak of his powers, the then 21-cap France international snubbed the likes of Inter and Lyon to head to Mexican side Tigres, of all places. Some would say that’s a direct route to the retirement home, but his contribution since arriving is exactly the opposite.
147 goals and counting from 246 games makes him the club’s all-time leading scorer. He’s also fired them to four league titles, a Copa Libertadores final in his first season, was nominated for the 2020 Puskas Award, and now has the chance to add the Club World Cup to the haul.
Quietly, Gignac is more prolific than most strikers in Europe.
Gignac is continually proving that age is merely a number in Mexico. His lowest goalscoring season since joining Tigres still saw him net 21 goals.
It’s hard for the national team to overlook such a return, no matter where someone is scoring those goals. Karim Benzema is out of the picture in the French squad, and while Olivier Giroud is the number one veteran striker, Gignac could be a reliable and trusted call-up.
The bulk of his 36 caps for France came early on in his career, but moving to Tigres saw him return to the national side for Euro 2016. And with him still putting up obscene numbers, you should never say never about Euro 2020(1).
Part of the reason why Gignac has enjoyed so much success but remains so humble and under the radar, is due to his upbringing.
Gignac embraces his gypsy roots and flies the flag of his community. He had to fight his way up to Ligue 1 by proving himself on loan in the French third tier. And before being called up for Euro 2016, he was the last man Didier Deschamps wanted in the French national team; He has never been the popular choice.
Going to Mexico and fighting his way to the top is something he has done his whole career and it has kept him humble, which is why he has been so successful.
Playing against Bayern Munich in the Club World Cup final is a culmination of his hard work, but his already emphatic goal record shows he has nothing to prove.