Ever since the first pre-season reports filtered through of a dynamic 17 year old lad from Burundi pulling the strings in our first-team, there’s been intrigue and excitement about our Bigi. Last night, continuing his impressive rise, Sky Blues starlet Gael Bigirimana won Apprentice of the Year at the Football League awards, which is something we should all be tremendously proud of.
It’s certainly refreshing to read such positivity about one of our own, as well as such eloquence and humility from the lad himself.
Earlier today I even read an article describing him as a cult-figure. I had to chuckle, although I’m always wary of this term because it can often be aligned with gimmicky players and those who contribute by way of personality and endless running, rather than actual talent. I can’t deny he has perceived eccentricities (especially when I have a rejoicing Bigi as my site mascot) – but he’s precocious in every sense.
While mini in stature and youthful in mind, his demeanour on the pitch sets him aside from the vast majority at the club. There’s long been an emphasis on physique as the key quality in UK football, which many attribute to the gap in technique between UK-educated footballers and the highest echelons of the football-sphere. That’s not to say those qualities are less inherent or natural to British lads –it’s more the culture and tendency to curb ingenuity as they make their way up the football-ladder which I’d point a finger at.
Gus Poyet is tirelessly outspoken in his frustrations and is adamant that there’s a problem. Joe Cole, who in my mind is one of most naturally-gifted English players in the last 25 years, had that flair gradually (but relentlessly) drummed out of him for years.
A lot of City fans will remember the youth cup drubbing we received in the late 90’s against the prodigious talent of West Ham. Cole was a phenomenon in that tie, and showed skill beyond any young English talent I’d ever witnessed. I often wonder just what players like Cole could have been if they’d been educated away from our shores and had a chance to learn the game the “Barcelona” way; a club that enforces a hard-working philosophy, but embraces invention in all its forms.
You may wonder why I bring this up. I mention it because I truly see Bigi as a beacon. A player who shows superb technical qualities, and is someone I hope can continue to develop as well as he has done so far.
Of course we don’t want him bullied, and need him to be street-wise and savvy to the demands of the professional game. I’ve no doubt that’s the reason he’s been removed from the first team during this tricky period in our season. There’s a time and a place for tricks and risk– but that should be acknowledged as a capability of his and cultivated, not constrained. It’s what sets him apart from the rest, and is what makes him potentially special.
So what I really wanted to do (in this roundabout way of mine) was to congratulate Gael for this recognition. I’m ever so fond of him as a player, and the stories you hear about him turning up at the ground asking for a trial, or getting the bus to training, make him an impossible chap to dislike.
He’s at a different place in his development to a lot of the young players we see appearing for us, but providing we take care of him in the right way (and he can somehow reduce the number of karate-lunges), I’m sure he has the potential to achieve big in his career.