Although Newcastle United aren’t afraid to dip into the transfer market for immediately essential first-teamers (Papiss Cisse and Vurnon Anita), Mike Ashley has implemented a very clear transfer strategy that concentrates first-and-foremost on youth. The scouting team (led by the revered Graham Carr) have been scouring Europe and beyond looking for exciting, young players who can be acquired for a low fee and, should it be in the Club’s interest, sold on later (for a profit). Newcastle’s new-found strength in youth has been demonstrated by the club taking to the new U-21 Development League like a duck to water with the side putting together some very impressive results against both Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur, although they lost 1-0 to Southampton, who are renowned for their youth set-up.
Just a few, short seasons ago the Newcastle Reserves was simply a place for the has-been’s and the not-quite-good-enough’s but thanks to Ashley, Pardew and Carr the team assembled for the U-21 Development League looks strong and full of promise. A number of them could even consistently break into the first team this season. So, who should you be looking out for?
1. Gael Bigiramana
Signed from Coventry for around £1 million Gael Bigiramana has already impressed Alan Pardew and managed to play first team football much earlier than perhaps anticipated (mainly thanks to injuries but nevertheless). After a strong season playing for Championship side Coventry City (he made his debut at just 17) the Magpies snapped up the midfielder and tied him to a 5-year-contract, demonstrating a clear belief in the Burundi-born former refugee. Bigirimana shares a lot in common with Newcastle’s destroyer-in-chief Cheick Tiote; when the player spoke shortly after signing about his eagerness to learn from his new team-mates, many suspect he had the much-revered Tiote in mind but any skills he can pick up from Yohan Cabaye or fellow new-signing Vurnon Anita would be a great addition to his repertoire.
Bigi (as he’s bound to be known by the Newcastle faithful) came on for Danny Simpson in the first half versus Aston Villa and impressed with his composure and tackling in the centre of the park. Gael’s debut was made all the more difficult by the fact that Newcastle were playing very poorly when he came on. Since the game Pardew has spoke of his delight at the youngster and said that Gael “grew into the game and got better as it went on.”
Eligible to play for Burundi, Uganda and England he’ll need to bulk up if he’s to have the ferocious midfield drive that Cheick Tiote possesses but the future does look very bright for Gael and out of Newcastle’s prodigious youth talent, he’s closest to that elusive first team slot.
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This article was first posted on September 20, 2012