André-Pierre Gignac, who has played the last 5-years at the French club Olympique de Marseille, announced yesterday that he was going to move to Mexico to play for Tigres UNAL. Gignac’s official Twitter statement read: “[I am] proud to have signed for Tigres UNAL.”
Tigres, who play in the Liga MX, just finished the Torneo Apertura second behind Mexican giants América of Mexico City. Although Tigres are always among the favourites to win the league, they have failed to win a title since the Apertura 2011 when the current manager Ricardo Ferreti let them to victory in the playoff finals against Cruz Azul.
Gignac’s signing was met with enthusiasm by Tigres fans and the French player, who finished top scorer for Marseille in its last season with 21 goals, has already promised goals and titles to his new fans.
Football experts may be surprised that a player of Gignac’s quality would make the move to Mexico at this stage in his career. Most high profile players in the past have made this kind of move in their mid-thirties, and preferring destination such as the MLS, Turkey, or the Middle East.
But the case of Gignac, who will turn 30 this year and might have had a couple more seasons to play at Europe’s highest level, is not the exception. Both the MLS and Liga MX have become more competitive, and this combined with financial power has meant that more players, such as the Italian Giovinco, are moving to North America at a younger age.
Gignac’s ambitions were to participate in the Champions League and to be part of France’s squad for Euro 2016. Although an argument could be made that France’s manager Deschamps does not rate Gignac highly, and even if Gignac would have stayed in Europe it would have been unlikely for him to be selected for France’s Euro 2016 squad..
Over the past few months, teams such as Galatasaray from Turkey, Dinamo Moscow or West Bromwich Albion have shown interest in signing Gignac on a free transfer. His high salary demands and the fact that he only wanted to play for a club that has qualified for the Champions League have blocked many potential transfers.
Keeping this in mind a move to Mexico is especially surprising, but Liga MX has not received the same media attention as the MLS. Mexican clubs, however, have the financial power to outmuscle MLS teams, which has allowed them to buy them some of the more highly rated players in Latin American football including Ronaldinho and Cabañas.
Tigres UNAL are still in contention to win this year’s Copa Libertadores, where they will face International Porto Alegre in the semi-final. This could be an interesting challenge for Gignac and Tigres UNAL, which could become the first Mexican team to win the trophy.
Furthermore, Gignac received €4.2 million per year at Marseille. According to the Mexican website Futbol Total Tigres were willing to match that salary, which will make him the best-paid player in Mexico.
The money involved in Mexican football has grown over these past few years with the clubs managing to sign some of the best players in Latin America. Gignac’s transfer could now herald a new era in which some European players could also make the move to Mexico.
Mexican tycoons, and corporations have financially fuelled this trend. Sinergia Deportiva, which is part of the construction giants CEMEX, has owned Tigres UANL since 1996. This financial backing means that Liga MX could become the new Eldorado of Latin American football, and may become a competitive alternative for European players who want to make the move to North America.