This might be a weird sentence for a series that is purely based on the obscure countries…but today we’re going to focus on some slightly more obscure countries. That’s right, I’m going to go above and beyond to pick out a couple of places, that you might not even have heard of, that have just a single Premier League representative each.
Formerly known as Portuguese Guinea, the name of the capital city, Bissau was added to the end of the country in 1973 after the country gained independence. This was ultimately to avoid confusion with Guinea, which borders to the south and east. Situated in West Africa, Guinea-Bissau have only ever qualified for a single major tournament, and that was the African Cup of Nations, earlier this year. They were banned from entering the 1998 AFCON after withdrawing from the qualifying stages of the 1996 tournament, a fate that was also shared with other prolific footballing nations such as Madagascar and Lesotho. The Djurtus (which is the local name for African hunting dogs and is overall a lot more catchy to say) played neighbouring Guinea twice over the course of last month (July). The aggregate score was 10-1 against Bissau which just goes to show there is currently no argument over who the best Guinea is.
Mesca (Fulham 2011-2015)
Buomesca Tué Na Bangna, who I’m quite relieved to tell you is more simply known as Mesca, is a 24-year-old, pocket-sized winger who signed for Chelsea’s youth academy seven years ago. He went on to join cross-city rivals Fulham just over a year later as a serious knee injury, suffered just after his arrival at the Bridge, meant that he hardly featured for the young Blues. But arrival at a new club, who were on the up, was met with optimism and the youngster relished the challenge. He was offered a new three-year-deal after his initial single season contract was up, despite not featuring in any competitive fixtures for the first team. The manager, Martin Jol, was a big fan of the youngster and kept him around the senior side as much as possible, even making him travel to away games when he wasn’t set to appear in the matchday squad. A bit harsh if you ask me, but Mesca said that he felt better for the experience.
His only chance in the Premier League came during a 2-0 away defeat to his former club, Chelsea. Mesca was brought on as a 72nd-minute substitute and therefore had little chance to make an impact. He was sent out on loan to Crewe Alexandra the following season where he made just six appearances and scored, to date, his only goal in English football. Crewe considered a permanent move for him but missed out as Mesca opted for a move to AEL Limassol in Cyprus instead. Crewe or Cyprus…not a hard decision. Five days after arriving at AEL, he played 90 minutes in the final of the Cypriot Super Cup, which his new side came out on top as penalty shootout winners.
Mesca has had a fairly non-existent international career to date. Having represented Portugal at Under-17, 18 and 19 level he was included in the Guinea-Bissau squad for the 2017 AFCON qualifying stages. Sadly, he played no part and is still yet to win a senior international cap. His younger brother, Armindo Tué Na Bangna (or Bruma to you and me) has just joined Red Bull Leipzig in a deal worth €12.5million but his parents insist they don’t have favourites.
The landlocked nation in Central-Eastern Africa is currently ranked at 121st in the FIFA rankings. They are nicknamed The Swallows, a much more peaceful and less intimidating name than Guinea-Bissau, but sadly have never been able to break into the AFCON. The closest they came was in 1994, when they got knocked out on penalties in a final playoff game against, that team again, Guinea. They have had some form of late though, beating Djibouti 7-0 in a friendly in March, the highest winning margin in their history.
Gaël Bigirimana (Newcastle United 2012-13)
Bigirimana moved to the UK as refugee with his family when he was just 10-years-old, in an attempt to escape the political unrest in his country. After walking past Coventry’s training ground to buy milk for his mother, “Bigi” showed a level of confidence that only a small child would have by walking up to the front desk and asking for a chance to train there. The bold move paid off as two scouts noticed his athletic speed and offered him a five-month trial. He stayed with the club for almost eight years and, after signing a professional contract, won the Championship Apprentice of the Year Award for the 2011/12 season. This would be his last hurrah for the club (for now) as he signed for Newcastle United a few short months later. Although the fee was undisclosed, it was believed to be between £0.5 and £1million.
Bigirimana made 13 league appearances, mainly from the bench, during his first season with the Magpies. His only goal came in a 3-0 victory over Wigan Athletic, after he came on for the late Cheick Tiote at half-time. After not playing at all the following season, or the first half of the next, Bigi was one of five Newcastle players who made six-month loan moves to Rangers on the January deadline day. Sadly an undisclosed injury ruled him out of playing in Scotland at all and he is now harshly regarded as one of the worst Rangers signings in years.
In 2015 he moved back to his boyhood club on another loan deal, but this was ultimately extended into a permanent deal. After marrying a former Miss Coventry, he played one more season in the Midlands but has recently completed a move north of the border to Motherwell.
If you thought Bigirimana’s Rangers spell was bad just wait until you hear about his international career. After representing England Under-20s on two occasions he revealed a desire to play for Rwanda, the nationality of his mother. He had previously turned down offers to play for Burundi for political reasons. However, in 2013 he was convinced to play for the country of his birth in a World Cup qualification fixture against DR Congo. Burundi ground out a gutsy 2-2 draw, only to have it overturned due to the fielding of an ineligible player…you guessed it, Bigi. Since then he hasn’t played for them and is still waiting on his Rwanda call up. I really like his story and would honestly wish him the best of luck back in Scotland and I would hope to see him accomplish everything he aims for.