He was almost lost to the system, now Garang Kuol is off to the world’s richest club

Six months ago, Garang Kuol was an unknown. Now, the teenage sensation is the new poster boy of Australian football.

Newcastle United awaits the 18-year-old starlet. While a loan switch beckons in the short term, not least to help with work permit issues, it’s a blockbuster move to a Premier League juggernaut converted into the richest team in the world after the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) takeover.

(Before he moves abroad, you can still watch him action with the Mariners, starting against Newcastle Jets in the F3 Derby on October 8)

He took the A-League Men by storm last season, scoring four goals without starting a match for Central Coast Mariners. He dazzled against LaLiga powerhouse Barcelona in May and became the youngest Socceroos debutant since 1996 last week.

READ: Mariners’ teenage sensation Garang Kuol signs for Premier League giants Newcastle

“I have no doubts whatsoever, he will be one of the best players in this world one day,” the Egypt-born South Sudanese refugee’s former Goulburn Valley Suns head coach Craig Carley told KEEPUP.

But Kuol’s meteoric rise almost never happened. He was nearly lost to football, Carley explained.

“A lot of people don’t know this but coming from Sudanese background, they couldn’t afford the NPL [National Premier League] fees when they first arrived at GV Suns,” Carley said.

To be part of the community, the parents actually washed the kits to subsidise the NPL Fees.

“This is one of the gripes with the system, we could’ve missed kids like this in the system due to the fees of NPL and he probably would’ve just been playing local football.”

‘Mate, you have to help me get this kid into a pro environment’

After fleeing Egypt and relocating to Australia, Garang Kuol – the younger brother of Stuttgart’s Alou and more reserved character – and his family ended up in Shepparton.

Based in regional Victoria, it’s there where a young Garang made a name for himself at the Suns before making the move to the Mariners, just like his brother Alou, having caught the eye of Carley.

There’s one particular moment that stands out to Carley and it involves a former Melbourne Victory star in the senior environment of NPL football.

Garang Kuol playing for Goulburn Valley Suns in NPL Victoria.

“We got Garang into training with the seniors when he was 14-15. I remember vividly a game against Dandenong City and [former Socceroo, Brisbane Roar, Adelaide United and Sydney FC defender] Sasa Ognenovski was coaching,” Carley recalled.

We brought Garang on for the last 15 minutes and he just tore City apart. He literally just tore (former Victory captain) Adrian Leijer apart. I remember talking to Sasa Ogenovski after the game and saying, ‘mate, you have to help me get this kid into a professional environment because he is just different class’.

“Garang came onto the scene and the way he was tearing up these NPL senior players, players that had just literally retired from the professional game.

“It was just phenomenal to see. I knew straight away that we wouldn’t be keeping this kid for very long, nor would we want to.”

Kuol’s progress through the Suns ranks was electric, but no matter the jump, he took to his new surroundings “like a duck to water”.

“The beauty of the regional areas is sometimes we’re under numbered in some of the squads. We would accelerate him into the U18s when he was 14-15 years of age. He could quite often play three games in one day,” Carley said.

“Watching Garang train with some of those players and accelerate him into the senior environment, it was just phenomenal.

Like a duck to water, the way he would even train against the senior players. I knew when he was 14-15, this kid was going to be something special.

‘It just makes the hairs on your arm stand up’

A-Leagues clubs in Melbourne passed on Garang but it paved the way for a team known for nurturing young talent – the Mariners – to snap up the prized youngster.

Garang joined the Mariners academy in January 2021. Still so raw, he burst onto the scene with a goal in the Australia Cup quarter-finals 11 months later.

His ALM debut would come as a substitute in April and he marked the occasion with a goal in a 5-0 win over Wellington Phoenix. Another three goals would come for Garang, who featured in just 189 minutes of league action in 2021-22.

Garang Kuol starred against Spanish giants Barcelona back in May, impressing Xavi.

Yet, he was called up as an A-Leagues All Star and impressed Barca head coach Xavi in May’s memorable showdown in Sydney.

Watching all of his unfold from afar brings up wonderful memories for his former coach.

“He is such a coachable kid.” said Carley. “If you tell him to do something, when you receive the ball in this area this is what I want you to do, you never want to take an x-factor away and you want players to have authenticity when they play, but he would just take it on board and execute the move perfectly.

“It just makes the hairs on your arm stand up when you see him executing some of things that he is doing and scoring some of the goals he’s scoring.”

Carley added: “I have no doubt he’ll go into Newcastle’s environment, maybe not in the first year or two, but he is going to thrive in the Premier League or wherever he ends up because he just adapts to whatever environment he is in.

“He’ll go on to become something special. There’s no doubt about it.”

Take him to the World Cup

Garang had just been called into the Australia squad for the first time. Sitting in front of a host of journalists and TV cameras, alongside Socceroos boss Graham Arnold and his Mariners team-mate Jason Cummings, he didn’t look fussed.

Garang Kuol (C) was called up to the Socceroos squad during the last international window before making his debut against the All Whites.

Unperturbed by the moment and what was to come in Auckland on September 25, Garang was cool, calm and collected, even for a player so young. It’s exactly how he plays his football.

Garang came off the bench against New Zealand at Eden Park and help set up a second-half penalty with a blistering run that left his All Whites opponent in his wake.

In his cameo against New Zealand, Garang Kuol caught the eye of fans and pundits.

He well and truly catapulted himself into Arnold’s World Cup equation, with a squad decision looming on November 14.

Having watched him put in all the work – an aspect Carley says people underestimate – the Englishman is adamant Garang should be on the plane to Qatar 2022.

“The hours that he puts in. Even growing up as a kid, you’d be out there training and I’d coach kids beforehand, and I’d see him and other Sudanese kids there practicing, practicing,” said Carley.

“Working on his left foot and right foot. The hours he puts in, it’s just reward because you don’t really see it too much these days with young players.

Until the sun went down, if there were no floodlights, they’d play until the crack of dawn and be there the next day as well. He has put in time and effort to refine his skills.

“He is so flexible, he can play up front, on the left wing, right wing or a number 10. He is so adaptable to whatever you try to teach him and that will be one of his real strengths.

Garang Kuol with Socceroos fans after his international bow at Eden Park.

He is just a sponge. He loves the game. He loves football. He is going to be on the world stage, there’s no question about it. I really do hope they take him to the World Cup because he is different to a Daniel Arzani.

“He is freakishly good. You can be out on the training pitch with him and you’ll see him hit the crossbar wit his left foot and right foot with his next shot.

“It’s just the authenticity of the kid. He is so, so good. So talented. He’ll adapt abroad and go on to bigger and better things.”

Featured image credit: Newcastle United