Lessons learnt for Gignac
Ligue 1 has grown accustomed to seeing its best players depart for fresh pastures. Season after season, however, France's top-flight clubs unveil exciting new talents to fill the void, many of them academy graduates.
One of the country's latest revelations is Toulouse's Andre Pierre Gignac, the leading scorer in the championship with 13 goals to his name. FIFA.com caught up with the striker, who is staking a compelling claim for a place in the France line-up.
Tall and powerfully built, Gignac has drawn comparisons with Wayne Rooney through his link-up play and selfless work ethic. The Frenchman is an adaptable No9, capable of fitting into any tactical formation and often stationed out on the left flank, where he has been putting his deadly right foot to good use this season.
Born in the south-coast town of Martigues, to a Franco-Algerian mother and French father, Gignac received his footballing education at a local training academy. In 2004, the then-19-year-old from Provence headed north to Ligue 2 outfit Lorient and made an instant impact by scoring in his first game. Unfortunately, early success went to his head.
"I was on another planet. I thought I was Ronaldo," he admitted with a smile. Unimpressed, Lorient coach Christian Gourcuff sent him to third-tier Pau for six months to relearn his trade. The change of scene worked and when the youngster returned to Les Merlus, he scored a 25-minute hat-trick against Nantes on his first Ligue 1 outing in August 2006. The old-style centre-forward finished the season with nine goals and six assists, proof that his star was in the ascendant once more.
His performances attracted the attention of Toulouse, who signed him in the summer of 2007. Paired up front with Swedish international Johan Elmander to begin with, Gignac failed to impress as Téfécé struggled. Elimination in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League and the team's continuing poor form in the league forced coach Elie Baup to change his tactics. Relegating Gignac to the bench, he opted to strengthen the midfield and deploy Elmander as a lone striker.
Made something of a scapegoat by a section of the supporters, the outspoken striker made his feelings about demotion to the bench clear. "I've since admitted I was wrong," acknowledged Gignac. "I didn't behave correctly and I also told the president that I was 70 per cent in the wrong. I've got back on the right path since then."
Thirteen and counting
Elmander's departure for Bolton Wanderers, and Baup's for Nantes, gave Gignac another chance to impress. On his arrival at Toulouse, new coach Alain Casanova wiped the slate clean, giving everyone, including the temperamental southerner, the chance to impress. "You all have an equal start," announced Casanova to the squad. "Prove to me in training that you deserve to play and you'll play."
Gignac rose to the challenge. "He found exactly the right words to spur me on," he said. "I need emotional suppport at times and he's played a very important role for me."
Six months and 13 goals later, Dédé has become a permanent fixture in the side. "I wanted to show the coach that I'd changed. I've also been lucky in that my team-mates have laid on plenty of chances for me. It might sound like a cliché, but the team spirit here is fantastic. Everyone is working together to pull the team along, even the subs."
Things are going so well in fact that Gignac has extended his contract with Toulouse to June 2012. "I'm not a mercenary," explained Gignac, who is set to become a father for the second time. "I need stability and a quality of life."
When the subject of the national team comes up, the Gignac cannot help but laugh. "I'm not going to get obsessed about it," he said. "I know exactly how far I've come and if France come calling one day then that will be a bonus. It hasn't happened yet though, and I need to keep working on lots of different areas, particularly the way I manage my energy levels. I still tend to chase around needlessly and I need to be more consistent, which is something I've never managed since I started playing in Ligue 1."
Whatever his future goals, there is little doubt that Gignac has learned the lessons of the past; much to Toulouse's delight.