When Australia’s coach, Graham Arnold, announced the official 26-player squad that will take part at the 2022 FIFA World Cup just a fortnight before the start of the competition, a name popped up immediately.
In just a matter of seconds, Garang Kuol became the youngest-ever player to represent Australia at the FIFA World Cup, as the 18-year-old sensation, who has been snapped up by the English Premier League outfit Newcastle United, was handed a huge boost of confidence.
Yet the talented and spirited wonderkid, whose electric pace and excellent dribbling skills have dazzled in the Australian A-League in the past two seasons, was not a shoe-in for the roster.
It was rather the resilience and the grit of a long journey that made him become who he is now. It was a journey that took sweat, setbacks and thousands of miles from the place he was born, yet here he is, ready to make his name widely known to million of football fans around the world.
But, truly, who is Garang Kuol, and what makes him so special?
The striker who just turned 18 this September was born in Egypt, after his parents fled Khartoum, the capital of their home country, Sudan, due to the precarious conditions and the lack of security. His older brother, Alou, is also a football player, featuring for the same side, Central Coast Marines, before moving to Germany, where he was signed by Bundesliga team VfB Stuttgart.
After Garang was born, the family moved across the Globe to Australia, where they found a new home in Shepparton, Victoria. His father, Mawien, and mother, Antonita, are both dry cleaners. Antonita is also a seasonal worker at an SPC fruit factory, with the two having seven children, five of them born in Australia.
The first two, Alou and Garang, always liked football and were encouraged by Mawien to take up the sport. When they were kids, for hours and hours, they would watch highlights of Australia’s national team, with Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell featuring on the biggest of stages.
“It was basically a mash-up, the key moments put into one tape – some of the goals and big moments “I can’t remember much about it, but I just remember players like [Mark] Bresciano, Tim Cahill and stuff. We used to watch that, legit, like every day, the same tape. It was one of the sickest things ever!,” Kuol told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Yet watching football does not make you a football player. And the Kuol family had to find creative ways to help their boys make a name for themselves. With the parents not having enough money to send Alou and Garang to overseas tournaments, the Shepparton community came together for the Kuol family. A fundraiser generated a staggering $8,000, which was enough to allow the Kuol brothers to represent regional Victoria in Japan and Spain. Their talent was firstly noticed there and the story just kept getting better and better.
Making his senior debut at only 15 years old, the striker was immediately eyed by A-League team Central Coast Mariners, who had already a link with the Kuol family, after Alou had previously featured for them.
He did not get to play with his brother, who left in 2021 for Germany, but he made his debut in April 2022, getting rave reviews. In just 12 games played in all competitions for the Mariners, Kuol scored five goals, being an instant hit in Australian football.
Such was his talent, scouters from Newcastle United, the emerging powerhouse in the English Premier League, identified his potential and an agreement was signed, with Kuol making the switch to the Magpies in January 2023, for a reported transfer fee of £300,000. Other sides, like Barcelona, Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund were also interested, but Kuol decided to move to Newcastle.
“It’s unreal. As a young boy in Australia, the Premier League is the main thing that everyone watches but nobody actually thinks they’ll reach those heights. To be one of those people, to be in the position I am, it’s amazing. Now that I’ve signed for Newcastle, I want to train hard, play hard, hopefully go to the World Cup and come back here,” said Kuol, according to the official site of Newcastle United.
After excellent games, including a cameo in a friendly match against Barcelona, which earned him rare plaudits from the Spanish side’s manager, Xavi, Kuol became the youngest player since 1996 to be called-up to the Socceroos squad. He had already made his debut in the match against New Zealand, as a substitute, but he is set to be a new star for the Australia team in the future.
It was also the moment when Arnold, Australia’s coach, was convinced that Kuol could make the cut for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. ‘He has a lot to learn. He is rough and he is raw, and that’s expected at the age of 18. ‘I’ve shown I’m prepared to take these kinds of risks, and that’s to shock and surprise opponents, but he’s got a long, long way to go,” said Arnold.
However, in spite of the risks, the manager pulled the trigger and Kuol will be now heading for Qatar, with a chip on his shoulder. An excellent tournament will see his stock rise just before settling in at Newcastle, a new chapter in a huge journey, that saw the kid live on three continents.