Reason to be cheerful: Gael Bigirimana

Posted by Marc Duffy

Graham Stuart/AFP/Getty ImagesGael Bigirimana, 19, has opened the eyes of Premier League fans

After such a great 2011-12 season, the 2012-13 campaign has been a little bit grim. In fact, this is the worst Newcastle start to a Premier League season, but it's not all doom and gloom.

Gael Bigirimana, the Burundi-born teenager who came in from Coventry City in the summer, has been an absolute revelation.

For those of you who don't know, Gael moved to England with his family when he was 11 years old. Gael has an interesting background story that is well told here.

At only 1 million pounds, 'Bigi' is already proving to be great value for money. The application that saw him named as 'Championship Apprentice of the Year' last season has helped him to make an impact so soon into his fledgling career on Tyneside. He comes across as being such a likeable lad, too - his beaming smile when training with the squad on their preseason tour made him instantly popular with players and supporters alike.

After a few solid games in the Europa League, young Bigi really made an impression in his first Premier League appearance when Newcastle hosted Aston Villa in September. Bigi came on for Danny Simpson on 38 minutes after the fullback pulled up with a hamstring injury. Vurnon Anita slotted into right back and Bigi took up his spot in the middle of the park.

He was excellent. I was at the game with my dad and some mates and we commiserated about the last time we'd seen an 18-year-old look so good in a Newcastle shirt - the answer is probably some time in the reign of Ossie Ardiles.

After the game, Alan Pardew said of Bigirimana: "He's 18, it's his first top-flight game, we weren't playing well, I took a gamble. But he's paid me back because he was as good as anybody on the pitch."

Gael has most often been employed as a deep-lying midfielder alongside or in place of Cheick Tiote (who other players jokingly call Bigi's dad). But Bigirimana showed his great potential in the 3-0 win over Wigan when he came on and Pardew played him in a more advanced midfield role.

He scored a fantastic goal, his first for the club, and his movement leading to that goal was that of an attacking midfielder with years of experience, not just a couple of top-flight games.

In the past week Bigi has been swimming in the deep end, starting at both Old Trafford against Manchester United and the Emirates against Arsenal -- he hasn't looked out of place despite the goals Newcastle conceded in those two games. For an hour at the Emirates he was excellent and I don't think it's a huge coincidence that three of the seven goals Newcastle conceded came in the seven minutes after he was replaced by Shola Ameobi.

Gael is eligible for England, too; he registered under his British citizenship when he signed for Newcastle. There are many out there who believe a player should only be able to play for the country in which they are born. But most other top nations have picked players from other countries for years, and in my opinion England should do the same - no rules are being broken. If I was Stuart Pearce I would have Bigi in the next England Under-21 squad without a second thought. He has the potential to be a full international before long.

Don't get me wrong - Gael is not yet the complete midfielder. Of course he's not, he's only just turned 19. He's been guilty of giving the ball away too easily in several of his Europa appearances and sometimes in dangerous areas but he's a very, very good young player. He has an incredibly bright future at Newcastle United.

Twitter: @MarcSDuffy

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