Tigres' Andre-Pierre Gignac experiment is a huge success

"Un Big Mac pour Gignac."

That was the taunt used by away fans in Ligue 1 seeking to rile French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac about his weight, back before his move to Tigres last summer. Burger King even used "A Whopper for Gignac" as a kind of reverse marketing campaign, while one satirical French website ran a humorous story stating KFC was sponsoring the French national team, but they were worried about just how much chicken Gignac would eat.

It all painted a picture of a player who was carrying a few extra kilos and who, by extension, was not the most professional.

That all changed, in part, when then-Olympique Marseille manager Marcelo Bielsa approached Gignac early in the Argentine's stint at the Ligue 1 club and told Gignac he'd score 25 goals that coming 2014-15 season if he lost two kilos. Gignac lost "four or five" and although he ended the season with only 21 goals, it was still more than Paris Saint-Germain duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani.

Still, when the shock news came that Gignac would be heading to Tigres and leaving Bielsa's team last June, there were questions asked. Was Gignac just doing it for the money? Would he take it all seriously? Did he have enough discipline to keep up the hard physical work he put in under Bielsa and maintain his slim waist-line? And how would he get on with one of the Liga MX's most volatile coaches, Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti?

After all, Gignac had famously fallen out with current France coach Didier Deschamps back in 2011, according to a report in L'Equipe, after he booted a bottle across the changing room, following the news he'd be left out of a Champions League game for Olympique Marseille against Olympiakos. Deschamps asked for an apology prior to that season's Ligue 1 Le Classique against PSG, but Gignac refused and was suspended from the squad. Gignac then went on to imply that his manager was dishonest and should stop misleading players.

In the end, the parties made up, but the episode makes it even more remarkable that the striker was recalled to Deschamps' France squad for games earlier this month, especially when the French press suggested that his international career was done with the move to Mexico.

"(The recall) shows that it wasn't all that bad a decision to exile myself a bit, 10,000 kilometres away from France," said Gignac recently on international duty, where he started and netted a goal against Germany.

Not only has the move resurrected his national team career, but Gignac is already adored by Tigres fans and there are even babies named after him in Monterrey.

Any notion that Gignac was some kind of Ronaldinho-light figure, designed to attract curious onlookers and sell a few extra shirts and tickets has been dispelled.

Instead, the former Marseille player has taken to wearing the Tigres shirt with pride and even flashed the hand signal of the "Lokos y Libres" -- Tigres' barra brava -- when he scored for Les Bleus in Stade de France against Germany. He's also netted 12 goals in 16 matches in the Liga MX so far.

Last Wednesday came Gignac's defining moment so far in a Tigres shirt. The Martigues native scored Tigres' opener in the team's 2-1 victory in the 2015 Apertura Liguilla quarterfinal first leg. Gignac contorted his body and steered a scissor-kick into the net to send the Estadio Universitario wild.

Led by Gignac and guided by the experience hand of Ferretti, who the Frenchman clearly has a good relationship with, Tigres are the favorite to win the Apertura.

There have been plenty of highlights for Gignac at Tigres so far. All three goals against Chiapas on Aug. 15 oozed quality. But it was perhaps the Oct. 18 game against Pachuca that provided Gignac's other peak. The Frenchman's strike-partner Rafael Sobis back-heeled a pass down the left wing to Javier Aquino, who sent in a cross to the edge of the area, where Gignac set himself and drilled a volley into the goal for the opener in Tigres' 2-1 win. It was representative not just of Gignac's obvious individual quality, but also the understanding and rapport he has built up with teammates around him.

And in a team under Ferretti that seeks possession, recycles the ball patiently in search of spaces to exploit in the attacking third, the job of the center forward isn't easy. It requires patience, good reading of the game, maturity and hard work. The stats on the Liga MX website show Gignac's work-rate and pass completion are top-notch.

The only real disappointment so far -- aside from one penalty miss against Santos Laguna -- was the Copa Libertadores final in August, in which River Plate deservedly came out the winner. Gignac, however, had spent little time with his new teammates at that point and wasn't fully match fit.

Since then he has grown into the Mexican league and has become almost an ambassador for it outside of the country.

"When you see the Mexican national team playing, you say to yourself that the Mexican league is not all that bad," he said recently. "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."

Gignac isn't the first big European name to come to Mexico. Spaniards Pep Guardiola and Emilio Butragueno are obviously better globally known than Gignac. The difference is that Gignac is still only 29 years old and on course to feature at Euro 2016 for a team many consider to be the favorite. He also rejected more prominent leagues and teams to join Tigres.

"I think I've opened a few doors," Gignac said recently in France. "Without naming names of course but some players have called me to ask me to talk about them with my club."

Still getting international call-ups, causing a fervor among the fan base and earning more than a pretty penny, Gignac's move to Mexico is turning out to be a model signing for all involved.