By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
He's only 19 years old but Gael Bigirimana has already gained a wealth of experience on and off the pitch, and Newcastle United's youngsters are reaping the benefits.
The Burundi-born midfielder has made 12 Barclays Premier League appearances this term, played nine times in the Europa League and once in both the FA Cup and the Capital One Cup, but on Monday he made his first start for the under-21s since the opening day of the season.
Since Alan Pardew strengthened his squad in the January transfer window, first-team games have been few and far between for the former Coventry player but he had no qualms about turning out for the second-string in a 1-1 draw at Reading's training ground.
And not only will Academy players like Alex Gilliead, Steven Logan, Rolando Aarons and Jonathyn Quinn have learned from playing alongside him but during the long coach trip back from Berkshire, Bigirimana dispensed some useful words of wisdom to them.
It's an uncertain time for young footballers across the country, with retained lists currently being drawn up and many hard decisions to be made, but Bigirimana - last season's Championship Apprentice of the Year - knows what it takes to make the grade.
"I was speaking to them when we were coming back from the Reading game and some of them were just asking questions about how it is," he told nufc.co.uk at the Newcastle United Foundation's inaugral Hall of Fame dinner on Wednesday evening.
"Some of them had doubts that they might not make it because the Club is buying players and I just broke it down to them. I just told them the truth: if you work hard and if you have the right attitude, with the ability that you have, then they can't release you.
"They have to use you because you've worked hard, you've came from the city and you deserve your reward.
"I was telling them a few of the things they can get away from to put them in a strong position when it comes to the Club making a decision.
"If you do everything right - if you don't go out, you don't get messed up with girls, you don't drink, you just work and rest - you put yourself in a strong position. And if the day comes and the club says 'no', you know you've done everything you can.
"I've been there so I'm just trying to help them. The Bible says 'I'm blessed to be a blessing' so when I'm blessed, I have to bless other people in my generation."
And although it's a far cry from running out at stadiums like Old Trafford, the Emirates Stadium and Goodison Park, as he has done this term, the teenager is more than happy to develop with Willie Donachie and Peter Beardsley's team.
"I don't mind because the plan was for me to be in there, so when I go there it's where they were expecting me to be," he said.
"It's always fun for me to go there to get minutes under my belt and whenever the gaffer wants to call on me put put me in his plan, to be available.
"When you sit on the bench, sometimes it's good because you learn but sometimes you can't just keep sitting on the bench. You have to play football, you have to be moving, you have to keep ticking over."
"I don't mind. When I'm going there, I'm going there to enjoy myself and to be around the young players. I love the young players in the club, I've come to know them and they're great boys.
"There's some good footballers and if you can raise them in a good way, this Club has got a great future with these youngsters. I always enjoy travelling with them and playing with them and helping them - and they can help me."
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