By Andy Ferguson

“Last season was a descent into hell.” These are the words of a striker who was once the talk of Ligue 1, touted as a future star of the French national side, but instead found himself languishing in his club’s reserves.

Olympique Marseille striker Andre-Pierre Gignac has endured a torrid time at the Stade Velodrome since joining from Toulouse in August 2010. Rumours of bust-ups with coach Didier Deschamps, added by weight and fitness issues, saw Gignac lose confidence and his place in the team.

This dramatic dip in form saw the 26-year-old fall from grace with a bang. From being the league’s top scorer in the 2008/09 season and a member of France’s World Cup squad, the striker scored a paltry one goal in 21 appearances last year.

However, it was not difficult to see last season’s disappointment coming. On August 31st 2011 Gignac was set to sign for English Premier League side Fulham, before OM pulled the plug on the deal just hours before the transfer deadline. Despite being kept at the Velodrome, the striker instantly fell out of favour and was forced to train with the reserve squad in November.

Things have never been easy for the man known as ‘Dede’. The striker began his youth career with ES Fos-sur-Mer before spending a further seven years at his hometown club FC Martigues.

Facing the prospect of dropping out of the game after being told he wasn’t strong enough to merit a professional contract at Martigues, Lorient opted to take a chance on the youngster.

After two years of learning in the youth academy and a stint at Championnat National outfit Pau, Gignac became a regular for Christian Gourcuff’s side in the 2006/07 season, netting an impressive nine goals in 37 games.

With his reputation as a powerful and dangerous attacker growing, a number of Ligue 1 sides started to show enviable interest in the player.

 A controversial tussle between Lille and Toulouse resulted in a departure from Lorient at the end of the 06/07 season. Toulouse had announced that they had signed the player on a four-year deal, whilst LOSC claimed to have reached a similar pre-contract agreement for €4.5m. Weeks of uncertainty and a war of words between the clubs ensued before the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) ratified the transfer to the southern side.

The move allowed Gignac his first taste of top European football, but he and Toulouse ultimately suffered a bitterly disappointing campaign – finishing 17th and narrowly avoiding relegation. Having spent the season as second choice to Swedish striker Johan Elmander, the forward featured sporadically and only hit the back of the net twice.

Elmander’s departure to England allowed ‘Dede’ to shine in 2008/09. An excellent return of 24 goals brought Gignac the league top scorer’s award, as well as a Ligue 1 Player of the Year nomination and a place in the Team of the Year – his most productive season to date.

A slot in France’s 23-man World Cup squad capped off a sublime 2010 for the rising star, and despite the national team’s abysmal showing in South Africa, Gignac sealed a big-money move to Marseille that summer.

OM splashed out a reported fee of €16 – €18million – a sum that many of the club’s fans feel is a long way short of being recouped – to beat competition from Serie A, the Premier League and Olympique Lyonnais to the signing of the striker.

Gignac acknowledges that he has had a torrid spell at Les Phoceens – making 72 appearances and netting only 14 times before this season – but aims to prove he is a goalscorer.

“I know that I have a lot to prove and to make up to the club and the fans. OM made a huge effort to sign me, and now it’s up to me to prove myself and repay their investment,” the forward said in a statement on the club’s official website.

“These last two seasons have been really tough for me with injuries and poor performances. Even though I had a brief return to form in January 2011, what I’m aiming for is to be consistent over an entire season.”

The departure of coach Didier Deschamps seems to have gone some way to helping the striker fulfil his claims. As a show of confidence, new boss Elie Baup has reinstated the forward to his starting line-up, with a rejuvenated Gignac hitting three goals in Marseille’s 100% start to the campaign.

Les Phoceens look a shadow of the side that finished 10th in Ligue 1 last season, despite retaining the majority of the players who were so desperately disappointing in Deschamp’s final year. Gignac is just one of a number of players who seems to be instilled with a new lease of life under Baup. This turnaround has allowed Marseille to equal an unbeaten start set by Monaco over 50 years ago.

Having already amassed treble the amount of last season’s tally, ‘Dede’s’ performances are garnering praise from OM legend Jean-Pierre Papin and his opponents alike. Nancy defender Sebastien Puygrenier described the forward’s style as “unplayable” after their week five encounter, whilst Papin has stated that he is Marseille’s “best recruit” of the summer.

Although things are on the up for Andre-Pierre Gignac, he still has a long way to go to prove he is among Ligue 1’s best forwards. ‘Dede’ could have added far more goals to his tally, having hit the target 17 times from his 35 attempts. He will be frustrated not to have made more opportunities count, but the fact that he is creating these chances is a far cry from his situation a year ago.

The striker and fans alike will hope that his bright start to the 2012/13 campaign will continue and that Gignac will rise once again.

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