With the scores locked at 2-1 in the 97th minute of Australia’s historic encounter against Argentina, the ball dropped out of the warm Qatari night onto the foot of an internationally unknown winger, whose strike hit the desperately outstretched arm and embrace of Emi Martinez. A potential sliding doors moment of epic proportions.Embed from Getty Images
Garang Kuol, the youngest player to feature in a knockout match at the World Cup, couldn’t have done much else to score. In the end, the most exciting talent Australia has produced in some time was denied by a combination of strong goalkeeping and the football gods.
His 25-minute round of 16 cameo wasn’t the first we’ve seen of the young Newcastle winger, and if all goes to plan it most certainly won’t be his last.
Within seven minutes of his senior debut in the FFA Cup against APIA Leichhardt, the young winger had a goal to his name. He repeated the feat on his A-League debut against the Wellington Phoenix, scoring just five minutes after walking on the pitch as a substitute.
Since then, his rise has been meteoric. In 12 A-League appearances and 283 minutes the younger Kuol has scored six and assisted a further three. Impressive would be one superlative to describe his start in professional football, and even that feels like an injustice.
But where exactly is the kid from Khartoum heading? It seems Australian football is hedging its future on the sparkling winger, realising his potential and spearheading the Socceroos attack for the next decade-and-a-half.
Truthfully, it’s hard to not get excited about the kid. One of football’s greatest players, Xavi, hailed him as “unbelievable” after this year’s clash between his Barcelona and the A-League all-stars side. Cashed up Newcastle United – currently third place in the Premier League – have seen enough in under 300 top-flight minutes to splurge an albeit measly (for them) half a million dollars on Kuol.
It’s important to remember that four years ago similar discussions were occurring about another spritely winger lighting it up in the A-League. In the run into Russia, Daniel Arzani was on the lips of every Australian football fan, player, and coach. Exciting, enterprising, fleet footed, direct. Able to come inside and interplay or take a defender on out wide. He was everything you could ask for in a winger. Manchester City signed him in August 2018, a momentous move for anyone, not least a 19 year old kid from Iran. His career hasn’t hit its expected heights since then as injuries – specifically an ACL rupture within months of joining Celtic on loan – played a major role in derailing his early promise. From then on it has been a fight for Arzani to return to fitness, confidence, and form, but recent showings for Macarthur FC – including calls to be rushed into the squad for Qatar – indicate the now 23-year-old is within a fighting chance of fulfilling the potential he was destined for heading into the last World Cup.
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It’s important the Australian football public remembers Daniel Arzani before getting too far ahead of themselves with Garang Kuol. He is an exceptional talent; everyone who has coached or played with him testifies his future resides at the very top of the game. Newcastle United’s sporting director, Dan Ashworth called him a ‘very promising young talent.’
To make a big European move is one thing. Exceling and building from it is a whole different ball game. As exciting as moving to Newcastle is for Kuol and Australian football more broadly, putting ink to paper is barely one percent of what is needed for the move to be worthwhile for all stakeholders.
Undoubtedly the ability is there for Kuol to make the most of his opportunity. But football, much like the weather, is impossible to predict. So many variables need to work together to produce a favourable outcome. Injuries, bad form, media pressure, home sickness, and not playing are just some of the factors which need to go right for a good move to become great.
He no doubt possesses the qualities to go to the very top. He is fast, fantastic at dribbling, wonderfully technical, intelligent with his movement and interplay, and most importantly fearless. He has all the hallmarks of a great modern day attacking winger with the benefit of incredible youth on his side. Reports are he will head to Portugal due to work permit issues in the United Kingdom. That’s great. A spell on the picturesque Iberian Peninsula in a league renowned for player production and youth development is exactly the exposure Kuol needs to climb his potential ladder.
All the variables have and look like they will continue to move in Kuol’s favour. In four years’ time we could be talking about him, still just 22, as Australia’s talisman lighting it up in a top European league and earning the plaudits of the world. Four years after that at 26, entering his prime, we could again be talking about his advancement through football’s upper echelons.
He is that good. It is, however, important to remember that unlike death or taxes nothing in football is guaranteed.