GAEL Bigirimana’s hoping Yohan Cabaye’s misfortune is his gain at Newcastle United.
The teenage midfielder’s expected to start against Maritimo at St James’s Park tonight.
And the Europa League fixture is a welcome chance to impress manager Alan Pardew, who will be without Cabaye for up to six weeks.
Cabaye, pictured, will have surgery on a groin injury, and his absence could mean one or more Premier League opportunities for Bigirimana, signed from Coventry City in the summer.
The 19-year-old, signed as one for the future, has already shown he’s also very much one for the present.
Strong in the tackle, and possessing a range for passing, Bigirimana has impressed in the 10 games he has played so far for the club.
While disappointed that Cabaye – who, along with Cheik Tiote, has been a big influence on him in his few months on Tyneside – is unlikely to play again this year, the Burundi-born player knows Pardew’s now looking to United’s other midfielders to step up.
“Obviously, you don’t wish for players to be out so you can play,” Bigirimana told the Gazette.
“They’re experienced players, and it’s good for me to learn from them.
“At the moment, it’s not like that, and I wish they’ll come back.
“I’ve just got to fill their boots, and be an option for the manager when he needs me.
“To play matches in the Europa League would give me more confidence and help me if I start in the Premier League.
“You don’t want these players to be injured – you want them to be on the pitch and the training ground every day.
“You learn more. If they’re injured, they can’t guide you.
“Hopefully, it’ll be a turning point for the club.
“We’ve been in two big competitions, and the Premier League is the most important one.
“We want to make sure the fans enjoy these games.”
Bigirimana started against Maritimo in Madeira in September.
The game, played out in energy-sapping heat and humidity in Funchal, ended goalless, and Bigirimana saw enough from them to know they won’t be pushovers at St James’s Park.
However, Newcastle, having suffered disappointing back-to-back home defeats in the Premier League, are determined to win – and book a place in the Europa League’s Round of 32 with a group game to spare.
“You look at some teams, and you haven’t heard of them,” Bigirimana added. “Then you play them, and it’s ‘oh, that’s why they’re in the Europa League!’.
“They’re a tough team, but in training the attitude of every player has been top class.
“We don’t want to go three games without a win. We want to show the fans that we care.
“Hopefully, we’ll show that. For me, it’s going to be the biggest game of the competition.
“It’s a must-win game – we must qualify, so we can give ourselves a rest and focus on the Premier League.”
The slower-paced European football Bigirimana has played this season contrasts sharply with the frenetic Championship relegation battle he was involved in last term.
However, the pressures that came with that struggle have equipped him for the challenges United face at home and abroad.
“Coming from the Championship and playing in Europa League games is crazy, but exciting at the same time,” said Bigirimana.
“Coventry tried to pass and play football, but they got relegated. At Newcastle, we’re trying to mix it up.
“We try to play, and get forward quicker.
“We’ve just got to keep going and take our chances.”
* Cash turnstiles will be in operation at St James’s Park tonight, with admission £15 for adults and £5 for concessions.