COVENTRY City’s first goalscorer yesterday at Wembley, Gael Bigirimana, revealed he gave an inspirational team-talk ahead of the Checkatrade Trophy win – which focused on giving something back to the club and city without any ‘excuses’.
It was a heady 24 hours for the 23-year-old midfielder and devout Christian whose wife gave birth to their first child the previous night.
He was one of nine Coventry City academy graduates in the team or bench, seven of which played some part in the game – following his return last year from a spell at Newcastle United.
Bigirimana was born in Burundi before coming to Coventry’s academy, and he married law graduate and former Miss Coventry Natalia Leigh last year.
He has been in and out of the team which has had four managers this year, and is staring relegation from League One in the face.
It a revealing interview on the pitch after the Trophy was lifted, he said: “This club has had its difficulties and to come from the academy and to be part of this.. I said the the boys yesterday, ‘we can all have millions of things to say about this club, millions of things, we can make excuses, but this club has given us the opportunity.’
“Some boys have been released from other clubs, and for others this club and the academy of this club has given them the opportunity,” he told BBC Coventry and Warwickshire.
“Gregor Rioch and Rich Stevens (former and present academy bosses) have been amazing. When Oggy (Steve Ogrizovic) was moved to the first team, Gregor Rioch and Rich Stevens came in and they really helped so many boys.
“So many of them are now playing in higher divisions – Callum Wilson, Conor Thomas, my brother Cyrus Christie, all of them.. it’s all for them as well. This is for all the young boys who came through the academy.
“That’s what I said to the boys. I wasn’t trying to segregate the team. I just wanted them to know what came from this club and it’s given us the opportunity. So we might need to work an extra five per cent. We need to be the ones that encourage, and the other boys will see that in us, and they were great. The other boys who didn’t come from this academy, they were amazing.
“I said to the boys, ‘we can leave something at this club that can change the path for those other boys and for this city. I’m very humbled.
“Mark Robins (team boss) came in and said he could feel we had a lot of shackles around us.. a lot of ‘do this and that’ and that brings fear.
“He came in and said, ‘I didn’t come in to save you guys, I believe it can happen but I’m here for the long term. He’s really amazing.
“It’s brought confidence to the boys. We’ve gone into a simple formation and it’s worked. He’s done really amazing.
“It’s not just football. It’s the community, it’s the schools, the workplace, it’s the barber’s shop, the small shops and the supermarket.
“The city of Coventry is quite small but this club really stands for this city.
“It’s too easy to give up. This club has been in the Premiership for so long, it’s been at the top.
“We can have so many excuses but nobody is perfect. All we can do is work hard and put other people before us. I wanted to work for my teammates. Coventry is the place where I came first so it has a special place in my heart.
“If you score goals it can get you from here to there. But I am not here for the glory. I’m a servant of Jesus Christ. I came to serve so I have to serve. It’s not about me. It’s about my teammates. It’s about this club.”