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Gael Bigirimana: I made mistakes at Newastle United but I'm at Glentoran to win titles and enjoy success


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New home: Gaei Bigirimana is loving life at Glentoran so far

New home: Gaei Bigirimana is loving life at Glentoran so far

Gaei Bigirimana in his Motherwell days up against Rangers’ Ryan Jack

Gaei Bigirimana in his Motherwell days up against Rangers’ Ryan Jack

Getty Images

Gael Bigirimana

Gael Bigirimana

Ruairi Donnelly

Ruairi Donnelly

Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press I

New home: Gaei Bigirimana is loving life at Glentoran so far

Eight years ago this week, Gael Bigirimana was billed as the latest Newcastle United wonderkid. He made his debut for the Geordies in the Europa League and the following month, aged 18, played in the Premier League.

At 19 he had scored his first goal in England's top flight, a crackerjack in a comprehensive victory over Wigan at St James' Park, with the Toon Army hailing a new hero.

Tonight, the midfielder is back in Europa League action, though this time for Glentoran, who are taking on his old club Motherwell at Fir Park in a one-leg first qualifying round shoot-out.

He doesn't deliver a sob story about why at 26 he is not preparing to face Liverpool, Manchester City and the rest in the Premier League's 2020-21 campaign.

He tells you about wrong choices, immaturity and naivety, adding that he is overjoyed to be at Glentoran and determined to win the Irish League title and beat Motherwell.

This is an articulate guy who, along with his father, two brothers and sister, arrived in England in 2004 as refugees, joining his mum in Coventry four years after she fled war-torn Burundi.

Bigirimana earned a contract at Coventry City after passing their training ground on his way to buy milk from Asda for his mother and asking coaches for a trial, in which he mightily impressed.

Having moved from Coventry to Newcastle in 2012, and with Alan Shearer praising him on Match of the Day for a dynamic early performance, the world appeared to be at his feet, only for his legs to be taken out from under him almost as quickly.

He wouldn't play for the north east club after August 2013, frozen out with Alan Pardew in charge, leading to loan moves to Rangers and Coventry before returning to the Sky Blues on a full-time basis in 2016.

He enjoyed a two-year spell with Motherwell under Stephen Robinson prior to a loan spell at Hibs and a switch to National League side Solihull Moors, joining Glentoran in the summer and shining on his bow last week in a 1-0 victory over HB as the Oval outfit returned to continental competition for the first time since 2015, courtesy of Irish Cup success the month before.

Reflecting on his career, Bigirimana said: "I made my Coventry debut at 17 and then there were clubs interested. I think the best thing for me to have done back then was stay at Coventry even though we got relegated to League One.

"I should have stayed there and built my foundation in the game, and maybe I took the wrong advice.

"I ended up going to Newcastle United. In my first year I did quite well and was in their Europa League squad where we reached the quarter-finals.

"I had some great experiences playing with great players, but it all comes down to me. I could point at managers, agents and all that, but at the end of the day I have to look myself in the mirror.

"That's what I have learned. I was probably immature and naive.

"Sometimes, when you are young, you are playing and everything is going well, and you just feel too comfortable.

"You keep waiting for your chance to come. Now I am 26 and I just want to play as many games as possible and be as successful as I can."

Gers fans may recall Bigirimana's loan move to Ibrox back in January 2015. Along with four other Newcastle players, including Northern Ireland's Shane Ferguson, he was shipped to Scotland but he never ended up playing a game for the Scottish giants due to a medical condition.

Asked to reflect on his brief time at Rangers, he replied: "The less I say about that the better!"

The one-time England Under-20 international, who went on to play for Burundi in the African Cup of Nations, is more forthcoming about why the move to Glentoran feels like hitting a reset button and how he is enjoying working with manager Mick McDermott, Paul Millar and the players, talking up the likes of new team-mate Ruairi Donnelly.

"I have only been here two weeks, but I want to say thank you to Paul (Millar) and the gaffer for how they have received me, and the boys as well for the welcome they have given me," he said.

"It has been a breath of fresh air so far. There is ability here. Sometimes it takes someone in the team to tell you you are good enough. For me, Ruairi Donnelly is that type of player. He is a great talent, but it is almost like he needs someone to give him that belief and confidence to succeed.

"So as we go along we will try and inject that into the team every day. And with every game we go into we have to have belief."

He added: "It seems like I have been playing football for so long, but I am only 26. The past is in the past and I can't change that.

"People may look at me coming here as a stepping stone, but the gaffer and Paul have told me what the plans are.

"You don't know what the future holds, but I want to play a part in this club's future. I want to win trophies, and the club started without me by winning the Irish Cup. Glentoran's success will obviously help me bounce back.

"We want to aim as high as possible and I want to win the league title. I shouldn't play football if I am not ambitious. I want to win every game and win as many titles as I can and be successful with Glentoran."

Belfast Telegraph