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Newcastle Player To Offer Prayers On The Pitch

9 years ago

Burundi-born midfielder Gael Bigirimana is just eighteen years old and had an impressive season, named the Championship’s Apprentice of the Year while playing for the relegated Coventry City, so it easy to see why Newcastle tied him down to a five-year deal last week.

He did not have the greatest starts in life but in an interview with Newcastle United’s official website, Bigirimana admits he was lucky in his journey in becoming a professional footballer.  “I moved with my family and we lived in Coventry. One day I was just going with my brother to buy some milk at Asda and then I looked to my right and there was this centre where the Coventry youth team Academy trained.

“There was something in me – like a voice – just said ‘go and ask to train.’ The next day, I went there and I just asked if I could train and stuff. They were kind of like, ‘This is awkward, you can’t just come in here and ask to train. We have to come and watch you and scout you if you’re good!’ “So I gave them the name of my school and they told me ‘If you’ve got a school match, we’ll come and watch you.’ I was excited – I was like ‘yes, they’ll come and watch me and I’ll have my chance’ – and I just started jogging off because I was excited.

“Then as I was running, they stopped me. They called me back and I thought ‘there’s no-one around me so it’s got to be me that they’re calling.’ So I went back and they asked me: ‘Are you good enough?’. I just said: ‘Well you’ll have to wait and see if you give me a chance.’ They asked me if I had any shin pads and stuff and I said yes – but I didn’t! The next day, I went and trained with them and from then it’s just been an amazing journey.”

Bigirimana is yet to earn any full international caps and despite representing the Congo at Under-18 level he is eligible to represent Uganda, Burundi and England as well. He has every chance of gaining more plaudits on Tyneside that he did last term in Coventry with his hard-working displays and tough tackling. The teenager may find trouble forcing his way past the combination of Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote to get into the team but with his determined attitude he might well do this.

Will Burns   Twitter @WillBurns6   Twitter @WorldFBWeekly


World Football Weekly asks Coventry City fan, Ian Saunders, for his thoughts and what exactly are Newcastle United getting with this young African prodigy?

‘You can’t really talk about Gael Bigirimana without mentioning his back story. Arriving in Coventry aged 11 as a refugee from civil war in Burundi, he finally rejoined his mum having not seen her for the previous four years. Seeing academy kids playing at Coventry’s training ground, he knocked on the door asking to join in.

After being told he would have to be spotted playing for a local junior team, he sprinted away before being called back due to his athleticism and asked to try out. Joining the academy, he would frequently run both to training and his school every day to save bus fare he couldn’t afford (4 miles plus), and academy coaches would often take him to McDonalds or KFC to make sure he had a hot meal after training.

After performing well at the academy, he was drafted into action (perhaps a little earlier than hoped) at the start of last season due to the paper thin nature of our squad, frequently playing either at the base, or on either side of our midfield diamond.  He immediately won the fans over due to his stamina and enthusiasm, whilst also not being fazed by the physical nature of play in the Championship.

He also actually looked like he was enjoying himself playing football, which is quite refreshing to see in these cynical times. He can win the ball but also has the range of passing to enable him to set attacks off, as well as being comfortable in possession, both when under pressure, as well as when he has time to think. Basically the Makalele role, but with a slightly more attacking outlook.

At Newcastle, I would expect him to spend the forthcoming season in the under 19 squad, with perhaps the following season to be spent out on loan. Don’t be expecting him to break into the first team straight away (after all he has only just turned 18), but give him a couple of years to settle in and gain experience at a higher level.  He’s one of those players who will benefit from a steady progression to Premiership level, rather than being flung in straight away.

Off the pitch, he’s modest and outgoing, and always has a smile on his face. He’s more likely to be found in the local church than out on the tiles, and he won’t give you a moment’s trouble. Look out for his haircut (in the running now for best in the Premiership), and his kneeling, hands-outstretched solo prayer that he performs before the start of every game. Overall, we’re sorry to see him go, and everyone really hopes he does well at Newcastle in the future (can we have him back on loan?).’

Ian Saunders    Twitter @monkfromhavana   Website –

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