Nestory Irankunda has officially signed for Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich after catching the eye with Adelaide United in the A-Leagues. KEEPUP revisits an interview with the man who discovered the teenage sensation – Airton Andrioli.
EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MAY, BUT HAS BEEN REPUBLISHED TO CELEBRATE NESTORY IRANKUNDA’S AGREEMENT TO JOIN BAYERN MUNICH.
When a 15-year-old stepped up to take a free-kick in January last year, there was a collective gasp. There was a sense a future superstar could be about to take Australian football by storm.
Fast forward to now and that same teenage sensation has signed off on a potentially life-changing move, with Nestory Irankunda officially on the books of Bundesliga champions and world juggernaut Bayern Munich.
NEXT GEN: Nestory Irankunda makes 2023 list
Because FIFA regulations prevent Irankunda moving to Europe before his 18th birthday – February next year, a month after the transfer window closes – he will see out the season with Adelaide.
The A-Leagues and Australian fans ran out of superlatives to describe the 17-year-old Adelaide United young gun a long time ago.
In his own words, Irankunda doesn’t score tap-ins, only bangers… just look at his highlight reel.
Adelaide – led by Carl Veart – have remained patient with the Joeys star, who was called into the Socceroos squad as a train-on player in March. It was not until this season had he started a professional club match – the Reds preferring to nurture and slowly introduce Irankunda to the physical and mental demands of senior football.
Irankunda and Adelaide are reaping the rewards of a youth program established by Airton Andrioli 14 years ago which has resulted in a remarkable production line of talent, headlined by the Australian youngster.
Andrioli was technical director of Football South Australia from 2009 up until 2020. He is now Adelaide’s Head of Youth Football and the head coach of their youth team in NPLM SA, while working as an assistant to Reds boss Veart.
He also brought Irankunda to Coopers Stadium.
“When we look to bring players up to our level to the Adelaide United youth program, we look at players with a sound technical base. When you see a boy like Nestory, some players have that naturally. That gift of understanding and reading the game,” Andrioli told KEEPUP.
“Being street smart. You don’t see that a lot in Australian players. That’s why Nestory from the start had that kind of thing.
“We always make this joke in Brazil that you have to coach kids here and tell them you have to scan and look over your shoulders. You do that from a young age in Brazil because if you don’t look over your shoulders in Brazil, they will pinch your wallet.
“The environment in those places in South America, they are conducive of producing people that are thinking for themselves from a young age. In Australia, life is much easier and that’s why I’m living here in many ways. It’s not do or die to become a footballer like those places.
“With Nestor, it was easy because he had that in himself. He just needed the other side of things – a bit more education and understanding of structures and the discipline of football.
“The fundamentals are important to me because if you have that as a starting point, you can develop all the other attributes. We don’t say many young boys who have that natural ability to do things without looking, to do things in more of a street way. Not a lot of that in Australia.”
‘I’ve never seen a player who could bring that out’
Irankunda is the poster boy of Adelaide’s program and the hottest property in Australian football.
The 17-year-old is the name on everyone’s lips and a player that fans, young and old, queue up to watch.
Irankunda has scored nine goals in his A-Leagues career – eclipsing the record set by Toure (seven) before 18. It is also the joint-most of any player before turning 20 in the history of the competition alongside Nathan Burns after he scored a stunning free-kick against Melbourne City in Round 2.
But it is not just his goals. It’s his pace, power and willingness to run at defenders and take the game on. Andrioli was the man who discovered him.
“I was working with the federation still and the Under-13s that played in the U14s competition. Nestor was playing that U15 team of the Raiders. It was a midweek night and I was watching,” he said.
“He did what Nestor does. Exploded like a bomb. He also did some things that you knew you get both – the good and the other stuff that needs to be worked on.
“I spotted him and followed him. Offered him to come into the NTC when I was in charge of that. I met his mum and dad.
“Then I moved to Adelaide and brought him in. What happened was, he played for the reserve team and scored a hat-trick.”
Andrioli is quick to stress one key element of his development, though he can’t help but be taken back home to Brazil when watching the prodigy.
“Lets put it this way, I’ve been in Adelaide for a long time, there’s never been a player in those moments, it reminds me a bit of my upbringing,” he said.
“When Nestory’s on the sideline and his name is called up, and when the first ball is played to him.. what happens with the crowd.
“It’s just beautiful to watch. I’ve never seen a player in Australia who could bring that out of people because there’s a sense of excitement and expectation.
“Normally a ball is played down the line and when Nestory starts running, it’s beautiful to watch. It’s not beautiful for the full-back he is running against. It’s something about him, the style and the way he does it.
“When you see those games, you feel like you’re in South America. People see that talent, they know what they can give you. It’s a pleasure. We never had this here, if I remember, in South Australia. A player who could bring that into the game.
“For me, it’s about the education. Understanding you have to navigate the ups and downs. I do believe Nestor has that because if people pay attention to what he’s been doing in the last few games. He also has high expectations.
“In one of the first games he played, he scored a free-kick against Newcastle Jets and didn’t score the next game. He actually called Carl Veart after and apologised that he did not score. He was 15 back then. He believes he can do it but he needs to understand it won’t happen all the time.
“He is actually maturing on that. He isn’t coming into the game all the time and doing something that’s high risk, take three or four players on to score. He is putting the foot on the ball, finding a pass and picking his moment to do what he does best. It is a sign of maturity in recent weeks.
“You won’t always be able to do that. You have to put yourself in the best scenario to do things. He is learning all the other traits. It’s crazy to expect now that when he comes on, we expect him to not only score a goal but one of those goals. To me we talk about lack of maturity, it’s a lack of maturity on us. Hang on, you don’t put that pressure on Craig Goodwin who is a Socceroo.
“He has to grow. The do or die is he able to navigate through the ups and downs, the disappointments of football and when people criticise. If he can do that, he can go to a high level. Only he can answer.
“I don’t try to teach him this or that because I think he knows it. He will use it at the right time, so he will become unpredictable. I always try to do that with the young boys so we don’t take away the unpredictability. He has that in an abundance.”
What can he bring to Bayern?
Irankunda will not be the only Australian at Bayern, with Joeys teammate Anthony Pavlesic also based in the youth team after the Central Coast Mariners goalkeeper underwent a successful trial before the start of the season.
New Zealand international Sarpreet Singh was also prised from Wellington Phoenix by Bayern in 2019. He made eight appearances for the first team before completely a permanent move to 2.Bundesliga’s Hansa Rostock heading into 2023-24.
“From a natural talent point of view, he has everything going for him,” Andrioli said. “If he can tick all the other boxes, I wouldn’t be surprised. He is such a beauty to watch.
“Even at training at times, you play a ball down the line for him to accelerate and put the cross in… if you go to a club like Bayern which people have been talking, I think he will catch people’s eye because of that.
“That might open the door to be given a chance. I know they have top players there too but being Nestor and the way he is and knowing what he can do, I wouldn’t be surprised if the opportunity is given to him that he doesn’t do similar things to what he’s done here.
“We had issues with him at the club and we had to be patient. People were thinking we can’t deal with that. It was a lot of pressure. The kid is young. His family background, the way he grew up, it’s a bit different.
“He can go a long way. What might happen, eventually he has to go to a different environment where he can see the level.
“Going to the Socceroos is like ticking a box from an education point of view. You start seeing the level and can’t go any other way. If he goes into that environment with 24/7 football with good people around him, he can flourish even more.”