It was back in early April when Olivier Giroud, in a question and answer session with the local daily Midi Libre, reflected on his sudden surge into the public consciousness. Montpellier stood on the brink of their first league championship, his goals sustaining Hérault's unlikely challenge against the limitless resources of the Qatari-backed Paris St Germain, and scouting reports of the forward's prowess were arching eyebrows from the Bundesliga to the Premier League.
For a player whose progression from lower leagues to top flight had been steady rather than spectacular, all the newfound attention must have felt unfamiliar. Even unnerving. "I have had my own particular path to reach this point," he had said in the spring. "Things have only really accelerated over the last few months after a rather 'linear' career. But I made sure it happened for me. When things do come off, it makes you very proud. All the effort is worth it. What has happened since has been amazing."
If that was then, Giroud must be pinching himself now. A league title winner in May, and a member of Laurent Blanc's albeit under-achieving France squad at Euro 2012 through June, the 25-year-old will formally become an Arsenal player on 1 July. Prior to arriving at the French base in Donetsk, Giroud had only ever played two games outside France – a Europa League qualifier against the Hungarians Gyori two years ago and a friendly against Germany in Bremen in February – though now he is a high-profile export, and a man whose arrival Arsène Wenger hopes will help to appease Robin van Persie. Arsenal's manager has tracked the 6ft 3in forward from afar. He does not believe a fee of £13m represents a gamble.
The club's supporters may reserve judgement for now, if only because they once pinned their hopes on Marouane Chamakh maintaining the form that had claimed Bordeaux a Ligue 1 title upon his arrival at the Emirates Stadium. Yet the comparisons with the Moroccan should end there. Giroud feels different. The boy who grew up in a well-off Catholic family in the Rhene-Alpes with posters of Marco van Basten and Zinédine Zidane on his bedroom wall has, like Didier Drogba before him, earned this opportunity through steady progress in the French lower leagues. It is no surprise that he spoke of his "pride" at how he had ended up in London: from the boys' team Olympique Club de Froges to Grenoble's youth academy; from a loan spell at Istres in the third tier to a move to Tours of Ligue 2.
There, alongside Laurent Koscielny, he made his mark and put a sports science degree on hold, his goals attracting interest from Celtic before Montpellier secured his services for €2m in January 2010. Last season's French golden boot at Stade de la Mosson was earned as the focal point in a surprise package of a team. Montpellier was supposed to be all about rugby union, not football league championships. They were still an amateur side in the mid-1970s. Yet a club with upper mid-table attendance figures and lower mid-table resources held off PSG's new money with a team of academy graduates and journeymen. The reality that Middle-Eastern money does not always prevail was football's romantic story of the season.
Giroud contributed 21 league goals to ensure his reputation precedes him now. On the pitch he has tremendous stature and physical presence, with his aerial ability surely to prove an asset in the Premier League, but he can be just as quick-witted and nimble in possession. His Montpellier team-mate, Jamel Saihi, has compared him favourably to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in terms of his touch and presence – there were nine assists as well last term – while pointing to his work-rate and desire to defend. His coach at La Paillade, René Girard, described his goalscoring ability as "innate", which should make an attacking trio of Van Persie, Lukas Podolski and Giroud feel mouth-watering.
"I can play as a lone forward, in partnership with a second forward, or in front of a No10," he said. "I'll adapt my game to different situations. That's my job. I've worked hard to add some explosive power to the first few metres when I make a run with or without the ball. I still need to work on my game when I have my back to goal. That's the hardest part." That acknowledgement suggests a desire and willingness to maintain his education at Arsenal, and a realisation that, despite being an international, there is plenty more still to come. Wenger will tap into that appetite to improve.
He will need time to settle. London-life will be very different to what he has grown used to back in Montpellier, where he, his father and brother would regularly take themselves off to wine tastings in Languedoc-Roussillon to stock the striker's cellar with vintages from Pic Saint-Loup and Montpeyroux. "Je suis un epicurien," he once told Le Parisien. He has also become a gay icon back home having appeared topless on the front cover of the French magazine Tetu, alongside the pull quote: "Je n'ai pas de tabou." Indeed, in a city renowned for its liberalism, he is France's metrosexual man of the moment, complete with model looks and a legion of female fans, though his focus is fixed. "I still want to learn, to progress," he has said. His arrival at Arsenal will not quench that thirst.
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image: © Matt and Kim Rudge