We may never know how many Tigres fans flipped open Twitter during their lunch break Tuesday and had a panic attack. "#GraciasGignac" was trending in Monterrey — but it was in the top terms not because forward Andre-Pierre Gignac actually is bidding farewell to Tigres, but because fans of the club's crosstown rival, the Rayados de Monterrey, decided to have a little fun.
Their jokes didn't come out of nowhere. Early Tuesday, Tigres president Alejandro Rodriguez told Cancha that the team's sporting director was expecting an offer from a Chinese team that was yet to arrive. Later in the day, he backtracked saying, "We're not waiting for anything," and could "categorically" deny the team expected to lose the player.
"He’s our player, our central forward and we hope he will be for many more years," Rodriguez said. "We’re both very happy: Him, his family, the coaching staff, his teammates, directors. It’s a winning formula, isn’t it?"
It has been thus far. Gignac has helped Tigres to a title in two of the three short tournaments he's contested with the club and won the Golden Boot in the Clausura 2016 — the only season in which they didn't win the championship. The 31-year-old has scored 39 league goals in 61 matches, and added four scores in seven CONCACAF Champions League matches and one in four Copa Libertadores games.
While it has been appreciated, his goals aren't the only things that have endeared Gignac to the Tigres faithful. He's celebrated goals with France by showing the hand sign of supporters' group Libres y Lokos, scored major points for speaking out against media critics of the club and just this month put a permanent tribute to Tigres on his arm in the form of a new tattoo.
And yet the #GraciasGignac hashtag seemed so believable. Part of it is the rumors that already had been swirling around, but there's also another thought in the back of the mind — moving to China would be so similar to what he did when he came to Mexico.
The Chinese Super League needs a player who is on the back side of his career but still can put up big numbers that draw attention from fans outside the country. The Asian upstart league also needs a player who would be willing to take a chance on a place that might be off the typical path, who would be willing to adapt to the way of life, maintain a close relationship with fans and become an ambassador of the league.
There seems little doubt that Gignac would be just that. It's the kind of man he is. While he wouldn't show up speaking Mandarin like he was able to do with his Spanish skills when he touched down in Monterrey, he's clearly able to adapt to a way of life where others may have struggled.
Gignac's footballing abilities aren't a question — and really his off-field value isn't either. He's not as big of a name as other players who have been mentioned recently, but he might be the kind of signing one of the teams not able to shell out for a Carlos Tevez or an Oscar could manage to pull off. For now, the interest is only rumored — just as it was before the Apertura.
The day will arrive, though, when Tigres fans will log on and send genuine messages of thanks to their star striker. The question is whether that day will come this winter, this summer or after an even more fruitful career in Mexico than he's already had. Chinese teams are right to covet Gignac as an asset, but it will be a task to pry the beloved forward away from the country that's fallen in love with him — affection that he's returned.