Profiling the breakout Australian talent signed by Newcastle United
Who is Garang Kuol?
Born in Egypt to Sudanese parents before migrating to Australia as a refugee, Garang Kuol is a mercurial attacking talent who has made his mark on Australia’s domestic competition in a mere matter of months.
Like his older brother Alou who recently earned a move to VFB Stuttgart, Garang was given an opportunity by the Central Coast Mariners who have has also produced Australian internationals Mat Ryan, Tom Rogić and Trent Sainsbury in the last decade.
Having recently made his debut for the Australian national team at just 18 years of age, Kuol’s talents are underscored by him featuring in a list compiled by CIES Football Observatory, who named him among the top 250 best talents in world football born after the year 2000.
Fearless and confident, Kuol is a versatile wide player who plays with a certain swagger and possesses an X-factor that has excited almost all fans of Australian football. Kuol’s seamless transition from youth to professional football has been remarkable to observe.
After scoring on debut in a 5-0 victory, Kuol added three more goals and an assist in seven substitute appearances before the end of last season as he helped his side to five consecutive wins which solidified their spot in the A-League Finals. With five goal contributions to his name in just 243 professional minutes at the age of 17, the excitement surrounding the explosive winger quickly became palpable. Simply put, no other 17-year-old has ever made such an instant impact in Australia’s top tier.
Perceived by many as a generational talent within an Australian context, perhaps the most seminal moment of Kuol’s career to date was his performance off the bench against FC Barcelona while playing in a pre-season friendly for the Dwight Yorke-coached A-League All Stars.
Despite losing the game 3-2, the 70,000 fans in attendance left Accor Stadium in awe of the youngster who crafted multiple chances and came inches away from scoring in a 33 minute cameo that grabbed the headlines.
And he almost followed it up with another one. Whatever your take on these types of friendly matches, they are invaluable opportunities for emerging talent, like Garang. Rare moments for the majority of the older players as well.pic.twitter.com/d8QzxE9hkI— Scouted Football (@scoutedftbl) May 25, 2022
His performance seemed to astonish Barcelona manager Xavi Hernández, who heaped praise on the teenage prodigy post-match:
“So, 16 years [sic] quite young. Dwight Yorke told me, maybe he’s a big liar. But 16, unbelievable,” said Xavi. “It was a big surprise. [He’s] very fast, he created many chances. We concede two or three chances because of him. So a great player and a great future. He’s a talent.”
Garang Kuol's style of play
Kuol’s playing style is characterised by his extreme confidence on the ball and capacity to drive forward in possession with little worry about the defence standing in his way. While this is not uncommon for players of his age who are typically less risk-adverse on the pitch than those with more experience, Kuol takes this idea to the next level.
Almost every time he receives the ball out wide, he wastes zero time in positioning his body towards the nearest defender and carrying the ball forward with pure speed. In some respects, his image on the pitch almost directly correlates his persona away from football where he emanates fun, nonchalance and swagger.
By putting defenders under immediate pressure, he is quite difficult to mark in 1 vs 1 situations because of his speed and ability to change direction without having to break stride or stop dribbling. This explosiveness and ability to run at pace is arguably Kuol’s greatest strength.
It makes little sense to draw conclusions from Kuol’s data due to the small sample size of professional minutes, but the 18-year-old averages 9.1 dribbles per 90 at a success rate of 61.1%. By definition, this is off the charts particularly for somebody so young.
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While Kuol’s first touch is sound, at times his dribbling can be erratic and his second or third touch can evade him and cause him to lose possession before he gets the chance to beat the nearest defender. This means that, to an untrained eye, Kuol can seem quite uncomposed on the ball as he constantly looks to surge towards goal.
This is an area that Kuol will have to improve before transitioning into the European footballing system where clubs place a strong emphasis on keeping the ball and not being wasteful in possession.
However, at his tender age, this should not prove to be too problematic as it merely involves him adapting and evolving his skillset to succeed in a different context.
Naturally, Kuol’s ability to face up to defenders and accelerate from a standstill make him a menace in transition. When given space, Kuol is ability to carry the ball forward as his long strides ensure that he can cover a lot of ground in a short space of time.
In the final third, he is quite decisive and he excels at making intelligent decisions about how to use his teammates. While Kuol is not the type of player who will play disguised passes or curl pinpoint crosses into the penalty area, he has shown that he can play tidy short passes and open space for himself and others.
Another strength of Garang Kuol is his finishing ability. He has demonstrated that he is capable of scoring from a variety of angles and all four of his goals are different kinds of finishes
Central Coast used Hibernian’s Lewis Miller at right-back for much of last season which forced Kuol to operate in the right half-space in many of his substitute appearances due to Miller’s desire to constantly overlap.
While Kuol is perhaps better suited to running at defenders from wide, he demonstrated his tactical adaptability by performing this role to aplomb as he remained characteristically unfazed when faced with pressure from the opposition.
Versatility is another string to Kuol’s bow as he can play from either wing or even as a centre-forward who can bother the opposition’s defensive line due to his savvy movement and ability to play off the shoulder of the last defender. He is capable of providing decisive actions with both feet which amplifies his versatility.
The biggest question mark that pervades Kuol’s skillset and playing style is whether he is capable of performing to a high standard against compact and resolute teams who prefer to operate with numbers behind the ball and allow minimal transitional opportunities.
Unfortunately, this will remain an unanswered question until Kuol discovers a world away from domestic Australian football as the A-League is well-known for being a physical league where fast wide players can profit from the helter skelter games where midfield control is rare and often unrewarded.
Additionally, Kuol is lightly built and is yet to develop a polished back to goal game which may leave some to regard him as being one-dimensional. However again, this is not the greatest concern as his body will inevitably become stronger with age.
Another strength of Kuol is his finishing ability. He has demonstrated that he is capable of scoring from a variety of angles and all four of his goals are different kinds of finishes.
One particularly impressive goal that he scored in the A-League last season was a first time poked shot past the goalkeeper that came directly from a long ball over the defensive line. He also scored a precise winning goal with the inside of his left foot from the edge of the penalty area against eventual Champions Western United.
Forecasting Garang Kuol's future
Although Kuol has only played just 189 minutes in the A-League, he has caught the eye of multiple European suitors including the Saudi-backed Newcastle United who are expected to trigger a release clause in the 18-year-old’s contract with the Central Coast Mariners. These reports assert that he will be immediately loaned out to a Portuguese club as soon as the deal is codified.
In fact, a further update from the excellent AussieScout states that Kuol is already travelling to England to complete a medical at and move to Newcastle United:
Two days before the youngster’s 18th birthday, national team boss Graham Arnold named Kuol in a 31-man squad for Australia’s pre-World Cup friendlies against New Zealand. The lightning fast attacker made his International debut in a 2-0 victory against New Zealand where he provided a much-needed spark off the bench and became a big talking point after the game.
Kuol played a seminal role in the Socceroos’ second goal by carrying the ball into space in transition and remaining composed by squaring the ball to Riley McGree whose mistimed finish led to a flurry of blocked shots on New Zealand’s goal-line before a penalty was awarded for handball.
His cameo places him in contention to be named in Arnold’s 26-man squad for the World Cup in November. If Kuol plays any minutes in Qatar, he will be the ninth-youngest player to ever feature at a World Cup, joining the likes of Christian Eriksen, Samuel Eto’o and Brazilian legend Pelé in the top 10.
Garang Kuol on his Socceroos debut
While there are still question marks surrounding Kuol’s ability to perform against compact defensive units, his output in professional football at such a young age is rare.
His lack of a physical presence will inevitably be a roadblock for carving out a career in the notoriously hard-nosed minefield of English football but Kuol could offset this weakness by improving his close control dribbling and ensuring that defenders struggle to chase him down.
At such a young age, it is difficult to predict Kuol’s future prospects. However, it remains clear that if the youngster impresses for the Socceroos at the World Cup, then Newcastle United could be counting their lucky stars that they discovered him before the rest of the world took notice.
Update: Newcastle United have now confirmed the signing of Garang Kuol, picking him up for a reported £300,000 from Central Coast Mariners. He will join the club in January.
Garang Kuol is an exciting talent that poses a significant threat in transition, attacking defences with direct ball-carrying and threatening the goal with a varied range of finishes.
Garang Kuol’s biggest weaknesses at this stage of his development are a lack of physicality and experience against set defences. Both are aspects of his game which will need to be developed when he moves to Europe.