Why Olivier Giroud Was the Defining Ligue 1 Player of 2012

Jonathan Johnson@@Jon_LeGossipFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2012

Giroud was handed a quick return to former club Montpellier in the Champions League
Giroud was handed a quick return to former club Montpellier in the Champions LeagueMike Hewitt/Getty Images

Despite the incredible impact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had since arriving in France, it is impossible to look past Olivier Giroud's role in Montpellier's completely unexpected title win.

Rene Girard's unheralded side defied the odds to finish three points clear of Paris Saint-Germain who eventually paid the price for a lack of clinical finishing, despite changing their coach halfway through the season. If incoming coach Carlo Ancelotti had Giroud available to him, then perhaps PSG would not have suffered those problems. However, it was the 26-year-old's goals that were the difference between the two sides.

Joint top-scoring in Ligue 1 alongside PSG's Nene with 21 goals, 2011/2012 was a breakout season for Giroud for a number of reasons.

Firstly, he practically doubled his top-flight goal tally from the previous season, but he also demonstrated a creative edge to his game by laying on nine assists and earned his first call-up for les Bleus, finishing the season in Laurent Blanc's Euro 2012 squad. That form earned him a summer move to Arsenal completing a meteoric rise to fame in just three seasons. A relative unknown playing for Tours in Ligue 2 in 2009, Giroud was an unqualified revelation for MHSC.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger snapped Giroud up for €12 million after the European Championships in Ukraine and Poland, superb business and a fraction of the transfer fee received for Robin Van Persie. However, the striker had been playing Ligue 2 football as recently as 2010 before Montpellier came calling following back-to-back 21 goal hauls in the second tier.

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Coupe de la Ligue final agony preceded the league victory in 2011, la Paillade crashed to Marseille 1-0 and last season's success was the first silverware for the Frenchman.

How did he get so good so quickly then?

In part, Giroud's success was a product of Montpellier benefiting from a very good batch of home grown talent that included Captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Moroccan playmaker Younes Belhanda and current French sensation Remy Cabella. Belhanda in particular was instrumental to Giroud and MHSC's success, the pair's understanding allowed a tight-knit team to thrive on Olive's predatory skills.

A tall, strong, technically refined, creative and unerringly consistent attacker, Giroud was a rare commodity in Ligue 1. This season the defending champions have struggled lying 11th at the halfway stage, a mark of how big a gap he has left.

What was so remarkable about Giroud's success though is that it was so unexpected. The season before, despite having reached the Coupe de la Ligue final, Montpellier finished in 14th place only avoiding relegation by three points on a final day that could have seen any of 10 teams relegated.

Giroud scored 12 goals that season but had been criticised for not being prolific enough and many believed that the team would struggle, or indeed go down, the following season. That wasn't to be, four goals in the first six games of the season saw the hitman immediately embark upon a good vein of form. Girard's side essentially rode the crest of that wave all the way to the title.

Thriving on the service of Belhanda, Souleymane Camara and the now departed Geoffrey Dernis, aided by additional goals from strike partner John Utaka and Belhanda, Giroud maintained his incredible form, improving it in fact, bagging two hat-tricks before Christmas.

However, interestingly he only scored more than one goal in three games; those hat-tricks against Dijon and Sochaux and a double away to Brest, all in the first half of the season. The reason for that is by the re-start of the season in January, Coach Girard had adapted the team's style of play to benefit from Giroud's creative side and not just his goal scoring prowess. Giroud was now the team's second playmaker alongside Belhanda.

The system worked perfectly and the rest is history, Montpellier completed an unlikely title win with Giroud leading the side. The striker was instrumental to a genuine David and Goliath underdog success story and because of that; he deserves the title ahead of Ibrahimovic.

No doubt Ibra's time will come as he looks capable of single-handedly firing PSG to their first title in 19 years on current form. However, the capital club expect success now, it's required in fact. Giroud and Montpellier didn't and if anything, their title victory has taught PSG some valuable lessons that are now serving them well second time around.