Newcastle United won the race to sign wonderkid Garang Kuol from the Central Coast Mariners and ChronicleLive caught up with those who have worked with the youngster to get the inside track.
Garang Kuol has not even played a game for Newcastle United, but it did not take the 18-year-old long to be recognised after he made his way to his seat in the away end at Craven Cottage earlier this month. In fact, Kuol was mobbed by Geordies before a ball was even kicked that afternoon as the new signing got a little taste of what life on the black-and-white tiger was all about.
It capped a memorable week in a scarcely believable six months for Kuol. The highly-rated forward has made his professional debut for the Central Coast Mariners; scored four goals in nine competitive games for his club without yet making a start; gone viral following his stunning cameo for the A-League All-Stars against Barcelona; and become the youngest player to play for Australia since Harry Kewell. Oh and there is also the small matter of travelling thousands of miles to sign for Newcastle last month. It is the stuff of dreams, particularly when you consider the journey the Kuols have been on after fleeing war-torn South Sudan, via Egypt, to start their new lives in Australia.
Kuol’s parents, Mawien and Antonita, ran a dry cleaners in Shepparton and used to wash Goulburn Valley Suns’ kits to help pay the $1,600 that enabled four of their sons to train with the National Premier League side when they were starting out. Former Suns coach Craig Carley knows what the family went through more than most.
“Speaking about some of their stories growing up, and getting to know them as human beings, it was really difficult in the refugee camps for them,” Carley told ChronicleLive. “The big hope they had and what got them through essentially was that love for football and that continued as their development went on. You would see them playing in the local park until the sun went down. It was just beautiful.”
Kuol, who has six siblings, did not have to look far to find someone to play with. As well as Alou, who is now at Stuttgart, fellow brothers Teng and Didi are aspiring footballers currently on the books of the Central Coast.
It was during those kickabouts that Kuol imagined one day playing in the Premier League at a ‘beautiful’ stadium like St James’ Park. Perhaps, then, you can see why Kuol jumped at the chance to join Newcastle in January when the wonderkid had a number of offers from clubs elsewhere in Europe.
It is not only a mark of the pull of Newcastle right now but, also, the vision sold to Kuol’s camp. Rather than simply targeting readymade stars each window, Newcastle want to become a sustainable club that develops local talent as well as signing younger players like Kuol before they potentially explode in value. This, in turn, will help with Financial Fair Play and you only have to look at Elliot Anderson’s progress in the last few months to realise that after Newcastle saved millions in the transfer market.
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Kuol certainly arrives with quite a reputation. Eddie Howe, who never goes over the top, is among those who are ‘very excited’ by the ‘huge potential’ of Kuol and how the youngster is ‘very sharp’, has ‘really good agility’ and is a ‘good finisher’. While undeniably raw, international team-mate Joel King told ChronicleLive that ‘coming up against Garang in training was quite difficult because he has a lot of talent and he’s unpredictable’. Cy Goddard, meanwhile, who played alongside Kuol for the Central Coast, added that the teenager would ‘either score or do something very eye-catching’ whenever he came on.
GV Suns technical director Billy Marshall has also worked at West Ham and Crystal Palace, and went as far as to describe Kuol as one of the best prospects he has ever worked with after the forward repeatedly played above his age group between the ages of around 10 and 17.
“Garang was always someone that excited the fans at an early age,” Marshall told ChronicleLive. “He’s very much off the cuff. He can do things that you wouldn’t think he could do. He’s always been one of those sorts of players.
“He just used to use his imagination. He was very raw in that, sometimes, you just wouldn’t know what he was going to do but, nine times out of 10, it would be something brilliant and end up in the goal. He was one of those exciting players where when he got inside the box, you felt like something was going to happen.”
However, it is important to stress that playing in Australia is very different to making the step up to the Premier League and the wiry Kuol will need time and a lot of nurturing to develop into a top-flight star. It was certainly made clear to Kuol during his fact-finding mission that there were no guarantees at Newcastle and the youngster would have to carve out his own path.
Newcastle are considering loaning Kuol out to give the rapid wonderkid the chance to adjust to life on the continent, but that plan may yet change depending on his involvement in the World Cup. Howe was certainly struck by Kuol’s confidence and ambition when the pair had a ‘really good conversation in person’ last month.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Kuol had no qualms in getting up and singing in front of his Australia team-mates as part of his initiation a few days earlier, but it can be easy to forget that this young man only made his professional debut last April. The reserved Kuol tends to prefer to do his talking on the field as experienced international team-mate Andrew Redmayne explained.
“Garang’s very quiet off the field,” the goalkeeper told ChronicleLive. “He doesn’t give you much, but he’s a good young lad. He’s got a level head.
“He doesn’t say much, but he loves a cup of tea. In the last national team camp, he said he likes about 10 cups a day. If he’s moving over to England, I’m sure he will indulge in a few more!”