Gael Bigirimana

By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter

Gael Bigirimana's arrival at Newcastle United was a little different to the circumstances which saw him join his previous club, Coventry City, seven years ago.

As he proudly posed for the camera at the Magpies' training ground and granted exclusive interviews to and nufcTV on Friday, it was proof of just how far the African-born teenager has came since he turned up unannounced at Coventry's Academy as an 11-year-old and begged for a trial.

The now 18-year-old midfielder became Alan Pardew's second signing of the summer after making 26 appearances in the Championship last season, shining for the Sky Blues despite relegation and winning the league's Apprentice of the Year award.

Bigirimana grew up in war-torn Burundi, where he played barefoot on the streets, and also lived in Uganda before following his mother to England along with his father, two brothers and sister in 2004.

"I moved with my family and we lived in Coventry," explained the hugely likeable youngster who has signed a five-year contract at the Sports Direct Arena.

"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."

While the Sky Blues' fortunes have taken a turn for the worse in recent years as they've plummeted from the top flight to League One, Bigirimana's own trajectory has gone in the opposite direction and it is clear that the player is grateful for everything the West Midlands outfit have done for him.

He said: "They have been like my second family because for the last seven or eight years I've been with them most of the time. They're just like my family and they've changed me so much as a person and as a footballer.

"I used to be a centre-back but (Coventry Academy Manager) Greg Rioch said '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.

"And now I realise that's where I belong, in the middle. They were great people to have and they were like a great family.

"But you never get too many opportunities like this. It might come once in a lifetime and sometimes you just have to take it and go and learn. It might be hard but life is not promised to be easy so that's why I took the chance."

Hard-working but skilful, Bigirimana is likely to start off with Willie Donachie and Peter Beardsley's Development Squad, rather like Mehdi Abeid did last season before forcing his way into the first-team set-up.

And while his displays as a defensive midfielder won him plenty of praise at Coventry, he also has an eye for a pass and - crucially - he has a burning desire to improve.

"I'm an all-rounder," he said. "If I have to do a job for the team, I do the job for the team; if I have to play as a holding player, I'll hold; if I have to play more as a creator, I love creating and I love the style that Newcastle play.

"I'm a team player and to be around such good players, I will learn every day so hopefully I can break through."

Not so long ago he was knocking on the door of Coventry's Academy, pleading for an opportunity; now the door is ajar for him to play in the Barclays Premier League. Bigirimana is very religious, but even in his deepest prayers he could not seriously have wished for that. 

"When I used to look at footballers, I used to think 'they're just different people'," he admitted. "You see them getting interviewed, you see all the profiles before the match and you think they're on another planet.

"So for me to be doing this, it's like somebody's just having a laugh with me or something! But I've just got to enjoy every moment. It's a blessing."

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