Bigirimana: I was destined to play for Burundi

Gael Bigirimana of Burundi during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals match between Nigeria and Burundi at the Alexandria Stadium, Alexandria on the 22 June 2019

Burundi midfielder Gael Bigirimana says he had dreamed and planned of playing for England when he moved to Europe as a young kid, fleeing from the war in his home decades ago.

But, Bigirimana has found himself taking a different route and is currently pulling the strings for Les Hirondelles at the Total Africa Cup of Nations Egypt 2019, the first ever appearance at the flagship African football competition.

The hugely religious Bigirimana says him being in Cairo with the Egyptian team has been a divine plan.

“My thoughts and my intention was to play for England when I went abroad. That is what I wished for and that is what I worked for but God had other plans and I would rather be in his plans than my own,” Bigirimana who started playing for Burundi in 2015 told

“I was called up to the Under-20 team World Cup in 2013 and I ended up playing only six minutes and from then I knew I had to make a decision. My destiny was probably to play for Burundi, and not for England.”

The 25-year old made the decision to play for Burundi in 2015 and four years later played a crucial role in the team’s qualification to their first ever AFCON, something he says will forever be stained in his memory.

“It’s as big as anybody can see. It’s a huge tournament and for us to be here for the very first time is a memory that will never fade; it will never die. We saw how much it meant to the country when we qualified and the feeling we have being here is so big,” he stated.

Had he dreamed that a day like this would ever come?

To be here for the very first time is a memory that will never fade; it will never die. Gael Bigirimana

“Never, not even in my wildest dreams did I ever think this day will come. I was just a normal kid born in Burundi playing football bare foot on the streets but then it never occurred to me that even after moving to England I will come back to serve my country in this capacity,” Bigirimana notes with a tan of emotion splashed all over his face.

Born to a Burundian father and a Rwandese mother, the midfielder and his family went to the United Kingdom at the height of the civil war in their country, having first fled to Rwanda and then to Uganda when the situation got worse.

For him, football was second nature and just two months after arriving in Coventry, he joined the town’s academy, in the most bizarre of ways.

“The Coventry Academy was just across the road from where we lived and one day, my mum sent my brother and I to buy milk from the supermarket and while we were coming back I saw kids my age practicing and a voice deep within me told me to go and ask whether I could play,” Bigirimana stated.

“The next day I asked my mum whether I could go register and she said she had no money but I told myself I should go. I was afraid because my English wasn’t the best and I didn’t know how to go about it but I kept pushing myself,” the midfielder noted.

The long and short of it is that Bigirimana was enrolled in the academy and went on to play for the first team, helping them to the EFL trophy. He went on to make history by becoming the first Eastern African to play in the English Premier League when he joined Newcastle United.

He now plies his trade in Scotland with Hibernian, and he says he wants to use the opportunity he has to open up more doors for Burundian players to get exposure all over the world.

There are players even better than me and it is my dream that us being here can open more doors to the world to see what we have. Bigirimana

“Qualifying has shown the world that Burundi have so many talented players. We have such a good team here in Egypt and back at home, there are very good players. There are players even better than me and it is my dream that us being here can open more doors to the world to see what we have,” stated the soft spoken Bigirimana.

He now hopes qualification for their maiden AFCON will see them earn more confidence to be a regular at the biennial African championship and he says they will be learning game by game.

Burundi began their maiden campaign with a 1-0 loss to Nigeria in a match in which they showed courage and determination, only to lose with a late goal.

“There are so many positives to pick up from that game and the most important lesson is to learn and move on. We have another tough game against Madagascar which we have to go all out and get maximum points,” he stated.

Les Hirondelles must avoid defeat against fellow first timers Madagascar on Thursday to be certain of their continued stay in the competition.