Olivier Giroud, the misunderstood ‘killer’ who triumphed against the current of his time | Soccer | Sports


French forward Olivier Giroud (Chambéry, France; 37 years old) will change Milan for California at the end of this season after agreeing to sign with the Los Angeles Galaxy. His arrival in the MLS, where Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba already play, means the incorporation of another player with an enviable track record in American soccer. Despite being the top scorer in the history of France, world and Champions League champion, the French international’s career draws a strange paradox. He was adored by coaches such as coach Didier Deschamps for his ability to fix central defenders and win balls in aerial duels, an infinite resource of the direct game characteristic of his notebook, but he rarely managed to establish himself as an indisputable player in the starting eleven. In an era in which the tactical trend has been evolving in favor of the false nine or mobile and fast forwards, Giroud (1.92 cm) has known how to triumph against the current, working for the team and with his craft as his banner.

Nothing illustrates his virtues better than his role during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, in which France emerged champion without Giroud, their starting striker, scoring a goal. And not only that: he didn’t even shoot between the three sticks despite the fact that he started every game—except the first against Australia—and accumulated 545 of the 630 minutes that the tournament lasted.

The so-called SGiroud syndrome, in reference to starting forwards who win the world championship without scoring a goal in the tournament, comes from afar. One of the greatest scorers in the history of British football, Jimmy Greaves, did the same in the 1966 World Cup, the only one in England’s showcases. Another French forward, Stéphane Guivarc’h, did a similar job to Giroud in the 1998 World Cup, in which he emerged champion without scoring, but was praised for his ability to create spaces for the team’s stars: Henry and Zidane. And a more recent and closer case: Fernando Torres left South Africa 2010 with the trophy, but without goals despite starting four times.

Criticism of Giroud usually focuses on his lack of creativity in association and his limited technical quality, although as an area opportunist, he always delivered. He credits it with his status as the French national team’s top scorer with 57 goals, ahead of Henry (51), Mbappé (46), Griezmann (44) and Platini (41). The French football expert and Paris correspondent of the newspaper AceAndrés Onrubia, maintains that the French victory in Russia 2018 “is not understood without Giroud”, and that the fact that he did not shoot on goal shows that “he worked for the team”.

The heat map of Giroud’s movements during the World Cup in Russia provided by Opta demonstrates this. France’s number nine occupied the right wing of the attack more than the opposing area, its supposed natural zone, because it was the destination of most of the long balls with which the goalkeeper and the defenders used to go out and lead the game. to the opposite field.

Heat map of Olivier Giroud at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Source: OPTA

At the club level, Giroud jumped onto the international scene at the age of 25 thanks to the achievements of Montpellier, champion of its only Ligue 1 in the 2011/2012 season ahead of a PSG recently acquired by Qatar, or superior squads such as that of Lyon or Marseille. In that Montpellier that crowned direct play and crosses from the wing, Chambéry’s striker was the championship’s top scorer with 21 goals.

His scoring ability led his compatriot Arséne Wenger to bet on him as a replacement for the Dutchman Robin Van Persie as Arsenal’s offensive reference, where he played 253 games and scored 105 goals. The million-dollar signing of Aubameyang in the 2017/2018 winter market left Giroud without minutes a few months before the World Cup, so the forward went to a rebuilding Chelsea. The circumstance was repeated and always ended in the shadow of the forwards who passed through Stamford Bridge: Álvaro Morata, Gonzalo Higuaín or Timo Werner. When Thomas Tuchel came to the bench blue, He opted for Kai Havertz as a false nine and relegated the Frenchman to an even more secondary role. However, during his time in England, Giroud added the 2020/2021 Champions League, four FA Cups and one Europa League (2018/2019) to his record.

Now 34 years old, his new style was AC Milan, where he changed the dynamics of the club and put an end to the so-called “curse of the nine”. From the retirement of Filippo Inzaghi until the arrival of Giroud, up to eleven players – including Alexandre Pato, Fernando Torres, Krzystof Piatek and André Silva – wore the number for ten years and failed to reach ten goals in a season. In his first season in Italy, Giroud broke that barrier and his 11 league goals were the perfect complement to a veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic to help Milan break another bad streak and be crowned Serie A champions for the first time since 2012.

Having completed his Italian cycle, the methodical Giroud goes into exile in the United States to lead a club that has included Steven Gerrard, Gareth Bale, Ibrahimovic and David Beckham in recent years. Now, overseas fans will know what a true tank forward is.