Bigirimana's Long Road To Success

Last updated : 07 September 2011 By Covsupport News Service/RD

Thrust  into the spotlight at the tender age of 17 because Andy Thorn was so short of fit players, Academy player Gael Bigirimana has impressed almost all of those who have seen him play.

Bigirimana escaped the violence in the troubled African state of Burundi, which at the time was  in the midst of a civil war and where atrocities and genocide were rife, when he was 11 and ended up in Coventry with the sole aim of becoming a professional footballer.

It has taken him just six years to achieve his aim and is now an established first team player for Coventry City.

So where did it all begin to go right for the affable, likable and hugely confident young lad? Former Coventry City Academy recruitment officer Ray Gooding takes up the story.

Speaking to the CT, Ray Gooding said, “We were up at the Higgs Centre and there was a lad outside on his bike and we got talking to him. I asked him where he was from and he said Burundi and I said where’s that then? "

"He said there were a few problems over there and he was starting fresh over here. His English wasn’t that great but he said, ‘I want to play football,’ and so I asked him if he was any good and he replied, ‘Of course I’m good!’ So he had loads of confidence even back then as an 11-year-old."

"Anyway, I asked him if he had got any gear with him and we got some sorted out for him and told him to hang around. We operated from two sites back then with one group at Warwick University and one at the Centre and to make life easier for the lad I put him in the group at the Higgs to have a little look at him."

“Anyway, after ten minutes he came over to me and said, ‘Ray, this group is no good for me. I’m better than them.’ So I took him up to the other group the next night – I think it was with Kirk Stephens coaching  and he held his own in there."

“The only problem was the lad was living over in Wood End and had very little support at the time so I used to pick him up and take him to training. He hadn’t long been in Coventry, and the country, and was just getting his feet under the table, but he looked half decent."

“After every training session he was always absolutely starving and I have lost count of how much he owes me for fish and chips, sausage and chips and chicken and chips!"

“He’s a super lad and we knew what we had on our hands; we knew he could play so I made a special point of ferrying him all over the place. I was like a second father to him when he first came in."

“We helped him a lot behind the scenes where a lot of people like John Bloxham, who was the welfare officer, and Keith Newbold, who was education officer, took him under their wing, getting him into school and things because we all wanted to give him the best opportunity we could to become a footballer and I am delighted for the boy now.”

The retired Keith Newbold, reminisced: “I remember the first time we met him. I saw these little eyes peering in at the window of the office. He was at a primary school and think he must have moved house after starting because he used to run to school rather than get three buses to save on the bus fare.

“He’s a smashing lad and we all wanted to help him and give him the best possible chance we could.”

Bigirimana's personality has made him a popular figure both in the Academy and at the club.

“He’s the joker of the pack and everyone loves him. He makes you laugh all the time and I have never seen him upset. Some lads can get a bit upset in games and things but I’ve never seen that in him. He is a very confident boy and he’s going to be a great player."

"I watched him against Hinckley in pre-season and thought then that he’s not far away. I think Andy Thorn is probably playing him in a more sitting role in his diamond but he can score goals. He can play further up if needed but he is comfortable in a lot of positions."

"He could even play at right-back but he’s in midfield at the moment and I believe he’s there on merit which is fantastic for the boy and the club. I am sure he will learn a lot from people like Sammy Clingan because I remember when I was coming through at Coventry I had help from the likes of Terry Yorath and Tommy Hutchison.”

He reflected: “If I ever had any doubts it was that I thought he might be a little bit slight but when I saw him the other week I stood next to him and he was bigger than me. He said I must be getting smaller."

“He came to see me to thank me for all I had done for him, which was nice, but he’s got himself into the team and to be fair to the lad he has done well and if gets a couple more inches and fills out a bit more then Coventry will have a real player on their hands.”