A-Leagues All Access presents No Plan B, the Nestory Irankunda story. As the football world looks to discover more about Bayern Munich’s new signing, this week’s episode gives an inside look into what makes the Isuzu UTE A-League sensation tick.
Nestory Irankunda’s emergence has been, like the player himself: rapid.
He started to play football as a seven-year old; earned an Isuzu UTE A-League Men debut at 15, and a national team call-up and transfer to one of world football’s most iconic clubs at 17.
“Turning 18 is going to be big, my life is going to completely change,” he tells KEEPUP Studios for a special episode of A-Leagues All Access, out on Thursday.
“I have always had that thought since the time I started playing football: I always had that thought and feeling that I was made for the sport and this is what I have to do to get there.
“I wasn’t too great with school, my main focus was always football and people always told me, and they still tell me to this day: what’s your plan B? I’ve always told them: I don’t have a Plan B. This is my main focus and this is what I want.”
That attitude has helped propel a meteoric rise for a talent that is out of this world.
Born in Tanzania, the third youngest sibling of eight children, Irankunda’s earliest football memory is chasing and watching his older brothers in Perth. It was not until his family moved to Adelaide that he started to discover his own talent.
“Seeing my dad and older brothers play every day after Church,” he recalls.
“My dad is a holy man, he is really into his religion – I want to thank Jesus for the things he does for us.
“My dad would finish church and have a game afterwards and he would take us with him to his game – the boys would want to follow their dad everywhere he goes.
CONFIRMED: Full details of Nestory Irankunda’s club record move to Bayern Munich
THE BACKSTORY: How Nestory Irankunda was discovered & what he’ll bring to Bayern
THE MOMENT: All Access cameras capture the moment the deal was signed
HIGHLIGHTS REEL: Every Irankunda goal in the A-Leagues
ANOTHER FEAT: Irankunda earns October nomination for Young Footballer of the Year
I would follow my dad everywhere he went. He was rapid! Faster than me. He had quite a good shot on him as well. Most of the talent I had is all because of him, and the food he provides us as well.
With a steely focus, though, he adds that talent has only taken him – and will only continue to take him – so far: “A lot of training I have done behind closed doors.
“When I finished club training I would come home and pass the ball against the wall or go to the oval and practice some skills.”
Now 17 stealing the show in top flight football; he has always been played above his age. And has always scored – even if he wasn’t initially happy about it!
“I used to want to be a centre-back,” he reflects.
“Watching Barcelona, that’s my team I support. Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique – I used to watch them a lot!
“Things changed once I got the call to trial at Croatia Raiders.”
Then came the move further afield. The rest is history; even if he tells it with a wonderfully humble nonchalance.
“I got moved to attacker, striker.
“Banged a couple of goals.
“27, 38, every season.”
He adds: “I got the call-up to trial with the Adelaide United youth team and since then I’ve been going pretty well.”
Pretty well, indeed.
Irankunda’s highlights reel, largely off the bench, stunned those who watched it for the first time last week, having seen reports from renowned transfer reporter Fabrizio Romano. His Original Rivalry red card was a rare set-back – a “learning curve” – and he has only started three matches in his fledging career. But he has been in an environment at Adelaide United that has helped him burst onto the scene and prepare for this ascent.
“(Adelaide United) means a lot,” he says.
“To watch Awer (Mabil), Pacifique Niyongabire, Al Hassan (and) Mohamed Toure, Kusini Yengi – watching those boys was surreal, amazing.
“Obviously good role models, and watching Bruce (Djite), Marcelo (Carrusca), Pablo Sanchez, Isaias, Craig Goodwin – it was always good to watch.
“I have always had the motivation and hunger to try and play for Adelaide United, playing for them now feels amazing…(it’s) a good environment and a good club to play for.”
He adds: “I have learnt a lot, it is not easy, not everything is handed to you.
“You have got to be a professional, rocking up on time, eating the right foods…over the years I have learnt a lot and hopefully I can learn a lot more.”
For the next six months, that’s at Adelaide United. After that, it is at Bundesliga heavyweights Bayern Munich.
“It was a huge achievement to get one of the best clubs in the world contacting you,” he says.
“When I first heard about it I didn’t believe it…but it is really unbelievable. I can’t describe it because the feeling I get from it sometimes is unimaginable.”
He continues: “There were multiple teams interested and I had to make the choice and I made the choice of Bayern Munich.
“My dad has been supporting Bayern since he was still in Africa…
There was obviously offers from English Premier League teams but my dad said he supported Bayern. There was a photo he showed me in the refugee camp, in Bayern Munich kit, so I went off that, to make my parents and my dad proud. So I said yes straight away.
One look at his highlights reel, and it is clear what caught the attention of Bayern, and his other suitors.
But what is it that Irankunda feels differentiates him from his peers?
I never give up.
He explains: “I could be having a bad week, month, but I will keep working to improve my skills and become a better player and help the team.
“Even on my worst days, I try to help the team.
I guess they just love the power I have, the belief I have in myself. I am not scared, no matter how big, to play against you. I think that is what they like.
He adds: “I always wanted to play like (Lionel) Messi, he inspires me to become a better player.
“Watching the way he plays is how I try to play – no one can play like him, but that is how I try to base my game. He is really agile, and powerful, so I try to base my game around him.”
Irankunda might not have been old enough to sign his contract without his dad, but his focus – and goals – are clear.
Get fit and strong here in the Isuzu UTE A-League. Get over to Germany and “tear it up, do well in the training sessions.” Try break into the Socceroos – to “represent the country that has helped me out my whole life, repay the people as much as I can do” – and to be part of the Asian Cup and World Cup campaigns.
In five years I reckon I could be at the very top, if I do the right things.
And he’ll always do it with a smile.
“There is obviously a lot of pressure, especially the way I am going so far in my career,” he admits.
“Obviously that’s really hard – but I always try to enjoy my game.”
But, with no Plan B.
“Once I go there, I don’t want to come back – don’t want to return on a loan deal,” he says.
“I want to stay there while I got the chance…”
Watch the full episode of All Access: No Plan B, the backstory to Nestory Irankunda’s move to Bayern Munich below.