From a Refugee to the Premier League: Gael Bigirimana

Picture this:

Coming to England as a refugee, a 11 year old kid one day was going along the streets with his brother to buy some milk when he sees a group of kids playing  in the grounds. Unknown to him was the fact that it was the the academy of a renowned English football club. Something called him from the inside. So, he goes there the next day asking if he could train, ignorant of the fact that they don’t let random youths come and train. They promise him though that they would come to see him play when he played for his school, but seeing his youthful enthusiasm as he ran past them they call him back. The youth, unsure if it was him they were calling from behind, looks back to find out it was indeed him. They ask the boy if he had shin pads and other equipment, the boy lies and says “yes”.  He is called up the next day to give a trial and after that day he has to never look back, eventually making it to the Premier League.

A perfect plot for a Hollywood movie one may think. But it isn’t so. This is what happened to a real boy in the real world, whose story came to a climax last week. The story of Gael Bigirimana, a teenage midfield prodigy who was the latest addition to Mike Ashley’s “cut-price revolution” at Newcastle.

Bigirimana has finally made it to the Premiere League.

Bigirimana fleed the civil war that had erupted in his native Burundi where he played on the streets barefoot, before finally following his mother to England in 2004 as a refugee along with his father, two brothers and sister, having also spent some time living in Uganda.

After about a year in England, Bigirimana, then aged 11, reached out to Coventry City to ask if he could have a trial at the club. There was no looking back after that. His natural abilities on the pitch was for all to see and within 5 years of that fateful day, he was knocking down the door of the manager, claiming a regular first-team spot.

Bigirimana started off his his career as Centre Back but (Coventry Academy Manager) Greg Rioch told him ‘I don’t want you to play there, I want you to play somewhere where there’ll be bodies around because it’s kind of too easy for you at centre-back.” He was moved to the centre of the park in a defensive midfield role where his natural abilities made him even more effective, a decision he would cherish forever.

Gael, a box-to-box midfielder with a combative nature, is a natural athlete. Combined with his already proficient technical abilities, he makes for a very good prospect for the future. Bigirimana burst on to the the scene in 2011 when he made his debut in a loss against Leicester, shortly after signing his first professional contract.

While Coventry have struggled in recent years, resulting in their demise  to the third tier of English football for the coming season, Gael Bigirimana has been a ray of hope amongst the dust piles of gloom at Coventry. His performances earned him rave reviews and consequently he went on to scoop up the award for “Apprentice of the Year” at the 2012 Football League AwardsHis talent didn’t go unnoticed. He was placed on stand by for England U-19s.

Gael Bigirimana with his Apprentice of the Year trophy at the 2012 Football League Awards

So, when Newcastle came calling, it wasn’t such a difficult decision for the youngster. Coventry would have loved to hold onto the young man, but in a football world where the likes of Arsenal aren’t able to keep hold of Robin Van Persie, Coventry’s efforts were futile ,especially as they have become cash-strapped as well. An undisclosed fee between Newcastle and Coventry was agreed, believed to be in the region of  £500,000 and £1 million.

Bigirimana, only 18, won’t be commanding a first team spot soon and will probably be either put into the reserve/youth squad or be loaned back to Coventry. If he remains at Newcastle, he will hope this will move will be one step back to eventually go step forward in his footballing education. He will certainly be in good company, learning his skills from Cheikh Tiote and Yohan Cabaye, two of the best in the business. Scouts have seen a young Michael Essien in him and if he realises his potential, the future of Newcastle will be in good hands.

Newcastle haven’t been able to make a big breakthrough in the transfer market as of yet, having faced frustrations in their pursuit of Luuk De Jong and Mathieu Debuchy so far. However, under the stewardship of Alan Pardew and chief scout Graham Carr, Newcastle aren’t only looking to win it all now but also building for the future, a concept not familiar to management teams and owners of past for this club. The young and talented are being recruited and inducted into the Tyneside, with a larger frequency. The promise shown by youngsters like Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson, Haris Vuckic, Mehdi Abeid and now Gael Bigirimana certainly bodes well for the future of the North-East club.



Souvik Roy Chowdhury
Football Expert
The demand to be loved is the greatest of all arrogant presumptions.
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