With manager Alan Pardew handing Newcastle United FC's youngsters the chance to shine on the European stage, UEFA.com spoke to two of the players benefiting most.
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Newcastle United FC have spent recent transfer windows mining Europe to unearth gems for minimal cost. This summer, versatile AFC Ajax man Vurnon Anita was the only established player purchased, indicating to the club's fans that the standout members of the Magpies' 'development squad' would play a vital role this term.
Newcastle currently top UEFA Europa League Group D with four points from two matches, having given youth being a chance to impress. A Haris Vučkič goal secured safe passage from the play-offs against Atromitos FC, and Gael Bigirimana and Sammi Ameobi (brother of Toon stalwart Shola) put in positive displays at CS Marítimo.
Most recently, Shane Ferguson earned rave reviews as Newcastle became the first team this season to defeat FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The 21-year-old made only his sixth start for the club in the important contest, and the flying full-back repaid manager Alan Pardew's faith with a fine assist for Papiss Cissé. "The manager has been really good to me this season, giving me a lot of chances, and hopefully I'm taking them," Ferguson told UEFA.com. "He tells me to get forward down the wing and get crosses in, and that's what I did."
Ferguson added: "[Pardew] has told the youngsters that there are a lot of games and if we work hard we'll have a chance to shine. It's our dream to play in Europe and we'll also try to get as many Premier League games as we can." Pardew rewarded Northern Ireland international Ferguson with a start in the league defeat by Manchester United FC, a week after the Newcastle boss had done likewise with Bigirimana against Reading FC.
Plucked from Coventry City FC, where he was apprentice of the year last season, Bigirimana has also played every one of Newcastle's four games in Europe so far, starting three. "I never thought I would be playing European games this early," said the 18-year-old after his substitute appearance against Bordeaux. "I just thought I would have another year at Coventry to gain more experience and improve, but this opportunity came along and it is a blessing; I am so happy to be part of these competitions.
"Every day is like paradise," the Burundi-born midfielder continued. "Training with these guys and talking to them as brothers is a dream come true. Playing with good players makes you better. You learn from them, sometimes without even realising it."
Bigirimana also credited his new boss with creating an environment that allows budding stars to flourish and for everyone to reap the reward. "[Pardew] is not just a great manager, he is a great person," he said. "He has pulled the club together. We are like a big family and it's great to be part of that. We know if we work hard, we can get our opportunities. It is great to see our manager trust young players – it is good for us, good for the club and good for the country."