Gael Bigirimana, Jordan Cousins and Nick Powell all picked up honours at this week’s Football League Awards ceremony as apprentices of the year.
The players for Coventry City, Charlton Athletic and Crewe Alexandra respectfully have all impressed this season at such a young age and will be looking to use this to cement their place in their respective senior sides.
Gael Bigirimana is the first Burundi footballer to win a Football League Award and beat Crystal Palace’s Jonathan Williams and Reading’s Jordan Obita to the honour.
The 18-year-old midfielder has already made 21 appearances for Coventry City this season so far, making his debut against Leicester City at the start of the season. He has since been a regular and pivotal fixture in the club’s academy side this season including a hat-trick in their win over Ipswich Town last Saturday.
Bigirimana spent some of his life living in Uganda with his mother before moving as a refugee to the UK in 2004. He signed his first professional deal with the Sky Blues at the beginning of the 2011/2012 season and hasn’t looked back since.
Bigirimana has not only been impressing on the field but also off it as he has gained the equivalent of two A-levels and a NVQ in sport whilst being at the academy. The apprentice scheme recognizes these achievements and awards the honours accordingly. Footballing merit is obviously a big factor in the judges decisions but education also comes into their choice.
On receiving the award at The Brewery in London, Bigirimana said: “It means the world to me and brings confidence and desire to achieve more in the game.
“I need to thank the Academy staff at Coventry and my team-mates for making me the player that I am today.
“I would, of course, like to thank the gaffer for giving my 21 first-team appearances at the age of 17.”
Another winner was Charlton Athletic’s Jordan Cousins. As did Bigirimana, Cousins was awarded for conducting himself in a professional manner on and off the pitch throughout the last year. Although this seemed controversial, as Cousins was arrested on suspicion of raping a 12-year-old girl earlier this year.
Cousins beat Huddersfield Town’s Matt Crooks and Preston North End’s Doyle Middleton to win the award and said afterwards: “When I saw the other nominations, I thought ‘boy, there are some players there. I was just shocked that I actually won it,”
“Some of the references I got from the coaches at Charlton and internationally were very impressive, but it was still amazing to hear my name read out in front of all those people,”
Cousin’s will join the professional ranks next season at the club, who are likely to be challenging in the Championship next year.
The League Two winner of the award was Nick Powell of Crewe Alexandra.
Powell is highly regarded throughout the academy system and is widely expected to play at the very top of English football one day.
Previous to winning the award, Powell capped a sensational display with two goals in Crewe’s 4-3 win against Gillingham at the weekend.
He made his senior debut back in 2010 as a 16-year-old and now as a 17-year-old has made over 50 appearances for the League Two side.
He was also one of three Crewe players to play at their home ground in England Under 18s 3-0 win over Poland last week.
He has made several appearances for England Under 17s along with fellow Crewe player Max Clayton, who is also another starlet to come out of the Crewe academy.
You can follow the progress of these players by sticking with The Youth Radar throughout the season as we continue to keep watch on the stars of the future.