The next big thing in Australian football is here, and his name is Garang Kuol.
Just 18 years old, Kuol has risen from promising talent to genuine Socceroos star in a staggering 12-month explosion. Now, he’s been named in the Australian squad to play in the World Cup in Qatar.
Assuming he takes to the field, the winger will be Australia’s youngest-ever player at a men’s World Cup, overtaking the Socceroos eye-catching bolter at Russia 2018, Daniel Arzani.
Announcing the youngster’s inclusion today, Socceroos coach Graham Arnold said: “Shouldn’t this be the most exciting moment? You know, an 18 year old kid who’s just come out of nowhere and is on a new journey in life.
“We’ve seen this type of thing happening many times before at World Cups and massive games, where players who are unknown come out and shock the whole of the country.”
And remarkably, Kuol still hasn’t started even a single match for the Central Coast Mariners.
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Born in an Egyptian refugee camp after his family fled Sudan, Kuol ended up in Shepparton, Victoria.
His older brother, Alou, forged a remarkable path in football for Garang to follow. After tearing rivals to shreds for the Goulburn Valley Suns in Victoria’s NPL2, the then-teenager wasn’t picked up by Melbourne Victory after a month-long trial, and also overlooked after a trial at Western United. Their mistake.
Nick Montgomery, now the head coach of the Central Coast Mariners, was in charge of the club’s youth program in 2019. He was told of the young striker’s talent, brought him into the academy – and quickly the first team, where Alou Kuol six goals in the first nine games of the 2020-21 A-League season.
Kuol melts internet with insane scorpion | 00:32
When the Mariners discovered Alou had a younger brother – also fast, also technically gifted, also bursting with confidence, also a deadly scorer – they wasted no time in bringing him to the Central Coast in January 2021. He had been dominating for the Goulburn Valley Suns senior side at the age of 15, just like Alou before him.
“Garang came onto the scene and the way he was tearing up these senior players, players that had just literally retired from the professional game, it was just phenomenal to see,” Craig Carley, his then-coach, told KeepUp.
By the end of the 2020-21 season, Alou signed a five-year deal with VfB Stuttgart in Germany. Now 21, he’s fighting through the ranks at that club.
After Alou left the Mariners, his younger brother was thrown into the senior side. In December 2021, Kuol debuted for the Mariners against APIA Leichhardt in the FFA Cup, scoring just seven minutes after coming off the bench.
Knee surgery briefly delayed his A-League debut, but it was only a matter of time. In April this year he came off the bench against Wellington Phoenix – and found the back of the net five minutes later. Montgomery could hardly believe his luck. Alou Kuol had been a revelation, and here was another teen sensation plucked straight from Shepparton scoring goals for fun.
And all the while, Alou had told everyone who would listen that Garang was better than him.
The charismatic starlet became the Mariners’ specialist game-breaker off the bench, striking four times and bagging an assist in nine appearances – just 189 match minutes in all.
When Barcelona came to town in May, Kuol was called up for the A-League All Stars team and stole the show against the European giants in front of 70,000 fans. In a dazzling cameo off the bench, Kuol put his name up in lights, particularly with a 60-metre weaving run where he danced through the Spanish defence before poking the ball just wide of the net. He struck the woodwork later on – and while he didn’t hit the back of the net, the teenager did more than enough to make the world stand up and take notice.
Barcelona coach Xavi said after the game: “It was a big surprise. (He is) very fast, he created many chances and we conceded two or three chances because of him. So, a great player and a great future. He’s a talent.”
Offers came thick and fast from European clubs in the biggest leagues – Germany, like his brother, Italy, and then the biggest of them all: England and the Premier League. In late September, a move was finally announced. Kuol had signed a long-term deal with Newcastle United. He will move there in January after the World Cup, but is likely to be immediately loaned out to a European club, given he almost certainly won’t qualify for a UK work permit yet.
Just days before that announcement, Kuol had debuted for the Socceroos – becoming the youngest player to represent Australia since Harry Kewell in 1996. And, unsurprisingly, he stood tall. Kuol showed off his blazing pace with a lung-bursting run down the sideline before squaring the ball to Mariners teammate Jason Cummings, whose shot was blocked by a Kiwi defender’s arm. Out of nowhere, Kuol had delivered the Socceroos a penalty – and Cummings made no mistake.
Former Socceroo Robbie Slater told Fox Sports News: “Every time he touched the ball, something happened … he’s got an incredible ability to beat his man one-on-one. He’s got a lot of pace, power.”
Arnold said today: “I brought him into camp against New Zealand. He fit into the Socceroo family so well. And really (he’s) a player that has absolutely zero fear, he just goes out and he wants to entertain. He did that against New Zealand.”
Kuol was then called up for the Australia U-20s, playing three qualifiers in Kuwait for next year’s U-20 World Cup – and bagged a long-range screamer against India.
He returned to Australia and the Mariners, and on Saturday delivered yet another eye-catching effort off the bench: two assists in rapid succession to smash apart a tight clash with the Western Sydney Wanderers that was goalless before his arrival.
Kuol continues hot streak for U20s | 00:31
Kuol showed his hunger to make an impact by sliding in on Wadnerers defender Ruon Tongyik, robbing the ball in the WSW box and deflecting it to Michael Ruhs to score. Six minutes later, Kuol delivered an inch-perfect ball across the face of goal for Ruhs to double his tally.
The calls to take him to Qatar became a deafening roar. Kuol had done everything asked of him at every stage – against Barcelona, New Zealand, A-League rivals and India’s U20s. He has proven himself capable of scoring, setting up goals, defending stoutly, and generally making a decisive impact off the bench.
“He’s shown right from the start of the A-League this season that he’s a player that can change the game,” Arnold said. “When we talk about an impact player, the player who can do something different for us, someone that can have a 1v1 individual action and change the moment of a game, I think Garang Kuol is that one.”
With the weight of a nation on a youngster’s shoulders, the World Cup can be an overwhelming experience. But Arnold’s message to the 18-year-old is simple.
“He just needs to be himself. He does that every week. He’s excited Australia. He’s showed it against Barcelona. He showed it to me against New Zealand in those moments at times – the way he can in a 1v1 action change the game.
“It’s like backyard football, where I say: ‘Just go out there and enjoy yourself, son, and show us what he can do. Show the world what you can do’.
“That will be the message to him because that’s his strengths. I’m not gonna send him out to play to his weaknesses, it’s about playing to his strengths. And it’s about doing Australia proud.”