Two summers ago, Gaël Bigirimana was looking to cement a permanent spot in the Motherwell midfield in the coming campaign, off the back of two cup final appearances in his maiden season.
After finding himself in and out the side, a January move to Hibernian followed. But, at the end of 2018/2019, Bigirimana found himself in the footballing wilderness.
A move to the English Football League failed to materialise and he would eventually join Solihull Moors on a short-term contract.
It was a chance to return to playing regular football, though the impact of the coronavirus would mean that the 26-year-old would soon find himself without a club again.
The Burundi internationalist’s wait for a club would finally come to an end when he joined Glentoran earlier this month and he made his debut in their 1-0 victory over HB Torshavn in the Europa League.
Now after ending his long wait for the release of playing football, Bigirimana has set goals both personally and for his new club.
“I found myself without a club and with no income for a long period of time, then as the January transfer window was approaching I felt I had to find a club to try and stay fit and that’s when I joined Solihull,” Bigirimana explained.
“This is a chance to reignite my career, during the situation with Covid-19 I’ve really learned a lot and I’ve been out of football for nearly a year.
“Mentally it’s been tough, but there will be positives that come out of it.
“It was good to be back and playing competitive football. My debut coming in a Europa League qualifier made it even more exciting.
“I really wanted to help the team progress to the next round and we did that. So that was a nice debut for me.
“The manager and Paul [Millar] his assistant came in a year ago and everyone is saying how well things have turned in that space of time.
“I’m at the stage of my career where I’ve played games everywhere I’ve been, but it’s not enough for someone of my age.
“I’ve never had an injury that’s kept me out longer than two weeks, so my volume of games should be a lot higher than it is.
“Coming here my goal is to play as many games as I can with an ambition to be successful and carrying on the journey that the manager and his staff have begun.”
After getting off to a winning start in his Glens career, Bigirimana can now look forward to returning to Fir Park to face Motherwell.
The midfielder made 57 appearances during his season and a half spell with the Steelmen and in his only full campaign with the club he played a part in their runs to the Betfred Cup and Scottish Cup finals.
It is a time he looks back upon with fondness and helped establish links to the community that he still holds to this day.
“My time at Motherwell was a rollercoaster, though it also felt like a revival for the club,” the former Newcastle United midfielder added.
“Even though we didn’t win either of the cup finals, that shouldn’t overshadow the highlights we had that season.
“I think it laid the foundations for Motherwell to continue to build and they have done that. They have improved as a team and while it was a shame we didn’t win a trophy, you live and you learn.
“I’m really looking forward to going back, it’s a place where I made some long-lasting friendships.
“I still get on really well with Stephen Robinson. He’s helped me a lot, even in the period where I was without a club.
“The Hope United church in Motherwell is almost like a family to me too, it’s such a beautiful community caring for the people of Motherwell.”
Motherwell qualified for the Europa League on the back of a superb 2019/20 season in which they finished in third place.
While the success of Robinson’s side came as a surprise to many, Bigirimana feels the mixture of good young players and strong recruitment was always likely to lead to success.
He admits he would have liked to have remained at the club for longer. Though as his game time became increasingly limited, he felt he had to move on for the sake of his career.
“It wasn’t really a surprise to see Motherwell do so well last season,” he explained. “When I was there, one of the things that I used to say was that I could see that in the next few seasons the team was going to improve.
“At that time the style wasn’t what it is now, though I could see young players like David Turnbull, Barry Maguire, Jamie Semple ready to break through and Allan Campbell had already established himself in the first-team as a really important player.
“You always look ahead in football and I knew if the club could keep hold of players like that then they would continue to develop and that’s what they have done.
“Unfortunately for me I wasn’t part of the team, if I had been then I would have been happy to have remained at the club, but I was getting to the stage where I had to be playing.
“Motherwell always recruit well and they have young players who are hungry and have a point to prove. It’s a credit to the manager as to how these players gel together and he manages to get the best out of them.”
During his time with ‘Well, Bigirimana established a strong rapport with the supporters and he admits that having to play this evening’s game with no fans inside the stadium is a real disappointment.
Despite that however, the midfielder says that getting himself up for the challenge of facing his former club will not be any issue.
Irish Cup winners Glentoran are considered big underdogs against their Scottish Premiership opposition, though Bigirimana is relishing the challenge.
“Sometimes life will throw you a curveball and you have to deal with it, having no fans is certainly a big curveball in football,” he added.
“Fans contribute so much to the game and some clubs wouldn’t survive without the fans.
“It’s not going to be the same, but as footballers we are paid to perform and compete whether there are fans or not. You don’t normally have fans at training and you still compete, so you have to take that same attitude and mentality into the matches.
“Hopefully, it will be a great game and I hope for my team we can perform and progress. Anything can happen in a one-off game.
“Outside of the pitch it’ll be a really nice occasion. But my main focus is helping Glentoran to come out of the game with a result.”