WELCOME "KARIBU" TO ORANGE FOOTBALL ACADEMY ZANZIBAR

WELCOME "KARIBU" TO ORANGE FOOTBALL ACADEMY ZANZIBAR

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MUDATHIR YAHYA

MUDATHIR YAHYA

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SEIF ABDALLA "karihe"

SEIF ABDALLA "karihe"

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Monday, 12 March 2012

GAEL BIGIRIMANA COVENTRY CITY'S BOY FROM BURUNDI


Gael Bigirimana (left) is a popular member of the squad at Coventry.


Gael Bigirimana was walking to the supermarket with his brother to buy some milk when he spotted Coventry City's academy training facility.
The following day he went there and asked for a trial. Slightly bemused, the coaching staff looked at the smiling yet determined 11-year-old with the broken English and explained that the club did not just take on young players who turned up unannounced. He would have to be scouted like everybody else.
Running home afterwards, having left details of the school he attended and buoyed by the promise that somebody from Coventry would come to watch him play, Bigirimana was surprised when a member of the coaching staff stopped him.
"They asked if I had all the equipment, boots, shin pads and stuff like that," Bigirimana told BBC Sport. "I said 'yes' but I did not. They said they saw me running fast but to tell you the truth I was jogging.
"The next day they gave me a trial. It was near the end of the season but they took me on for the following campaign. It must have been a miracle."
Miracle or not, seven years later the 18-year-old has just been named the Football League Championship Apprentice of the Year for a season in which he has made a significant impact at the struggling second-tier club.
He has so far played 21 times for the first team after making his debut against Leicester in August and quickly became a cult figure among the club's supporters with a series of skilful and wholehearted performances in the centre of midfield.
"He has a good touch and has shown a maturity beyond his years," said Sky Blues manager Andy Thorn. "He has acquitted himself well."
Performing in such a pivotal position in a struggling side is a big responsibility for somebody in their debut season and Thorn is candid enough to admit that the youngster's form started to tail off. Bigirimana has not played for the first team since their match against Southampton in January. Even so, he had made enough of an impression to reportedly be the subject of a recent approach from Championship rivals Burnley, who wanted to sign the youngster on loan.
Bigirimana himself sounded philosophical when asked about his return to the youth side after a prolonged taste of first-team action.
"Football is full of disappointments," he explained. "Each one must make you a better player. Besides, the youth team are pushing for the league title and it is great to be able to help my friends there."

This upbeat, selfless attitude is part of the reason why players in the younger age groups look up to him. He told me that one of the things he needed to work on is developing a selfish streak in front of goal. He has infuriated his coaches at times this season by passing to a team-mate when he should have gone for goal himself. When I asked him about his ambitions he talked more about wanting his team-mates to succeed than listing any particular aspirations for himself.
He has regularly volunteered to visit schools in the area to talk to the younger pupils about his story and I imagine it must make for gripping listening because Bigirimana's journey in life sounds like the plot for a Hollywood script.
He is a refugee from the war-torn African country of Burundi who came to England in 2004. His mother arrived first before Gael followed with his father, two brothers and a sister.
Back in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, he played football at every opportunity, barefooted, on the streets. Prior to his arrival in England he lived briefly in Uganda and had his first experience of wearing boots and playing in a structured competition.
He had not been at Coventry City for more than a handful of training sessions before he approached the coach and asked to be moved to a higher age group. He explained that he was not finding his own group challenging enough.
It quickly became obvious that the boy from Burundi was a gifted footballer who loved to entertain and played with a freedom that endeared him to those around him. However, it was equally apparent that he understood the value of hard work.
"His determination to achieve manifests itself in his being the first at training and the last to leave," said Coventry academy manager Gregor Rioch.
Bigirimana is a deeply religious man who believes that everything that has happened to him is part of God's plan. The setbacks have been designed to make him stronger. He clearly has a huge determination to overcome any obstacles in his way.
This season he has attended extra sessions with the club's education officer on a Thursday afternoon to catch up on the studies he has missed as a consequence of his involvement with the first team. It is the sort of application that helped earn him his Apprentice of the Year award and should stand him in good stead for a successful career.
Thorn told me Bigirimana can have a "massive, massive future in the game" and added: "Gael's is an amazing story and just shows with the right dedication, work ethic and commitment what you can actually achieve."
As Bigirimana walked off the stage in London on Sunday evening clutching his award he had a huge grin on his face; don't bet against it being the last.