Australian football is lacking a superstar.
The days of Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Tim Cahill being leading lights and global ambassadors for the country's national team are now long gone, and as they prepare for their fifth successive appearance at the World Cup finals, the Socceroos are crying out for a new hero.
And while it would be unfair to expect a teenager who is yet to start a professional match to step up to the mark, Garang Kuol is being touted as Australia's next big thing.
The 18-year-old thrust himself into the limelight with his performances in the A-League for Central Coast Mariners last season, and could now be set for a place on the plane to Qatar 2022 after earning his first international call-up in September.
He managed to back that up by agreeing a move to the Premier League just a couple of weeks later, and there is real excitement that Australia have found themselves a generational talent.
But who is Garang Kuol, and what makes him so special? Let NXGN explain...
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Where it all began
Kuol was born in Egypt to Sudanese parents who had fled their war-torn home a few years earlier.
One of six brothers, Kuol and his family moved to Australia when he was aged six, and he and his older brother, Alou, soon began to learn about their new home's football history, watching highlights videos from the Socceroos' previous World Cup appearances.
"It was basically a mash-up, the key moments put into one tape – some of the goals and big moments," Kuol told the Sydney Morning Herald. “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!”
While he would try replicate those goals in his garden, Kuol's formal footballing education began at semi-professional side Goulburn Valley Suns, for whom he was promoted to the senior side at just 15.
"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 coach at the time, told KeepUp.
By 2019, he was following his brother Alou's path by being enrolled into the Central Coast Mariners academy.
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The big break
With Alou having shone for the Mariners before leaving to join Stuttgart in 2021, much was expected of Garang when he appeared on the teamsheet for the first time in April 2022, named among the substitutes against Western United.
And though he did not make it onto the pitch that day, a week later it became clear that he could have an impact on the professional game.
He netted just five minutes after coming on for his league debut against the Wellington Phoenix, sparking a run that saw him score four goals in nine appearances to end the campaign, including a run of three goals in as many games to help the Mariners reach the play-offs.
🔥 The Kuol name is back on the scoresheet 🔥— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) April 5, 2022
Except this time it's Alou's 17-year-old brother, Garang!
How about this for your first @IsuzuUTE A-League goal 😍
🗣️"That is brave ... that is 𝙗𝙧𝙞𝙡𝙡𝙞𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚" - @PhilMoss_13.
Follow live: https://t.co/p6UDyrJaV4#CCMvWEL pic.twitter.com/Fx2gIDyX2s
"Garang, he's a special talent," his manager, Nick Montgomery, said. "When he comes off the bench, he just needs one chance. That shows what a talent he is."
Used exclusively as an impact substitute, Kuol averaged a goal every 47 minutes, and earned himself a place in the A-League All-Stars squad to face Barcelona in a post-season friendly.
Again a substitute, Kuol ended up grabbing all the headlines after a 30-minute cameo that left the Barca backline reeling.
The teenager twice came close to scoring an incredible solo goal in the second half, and certainly made an impact on Xavi as he watched from the touchline.
"It was a big surprise," the Barca boss said post-match. (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."
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How it's going
After a quiet few months in pre-season, Kuol exploded back into the Australia's collective footballing consciousness in mid-September, when he became the youngest player since Kewell in 1996 to be called-up to the Socceroos squad.
His debut against New Zealand – naturally as a substitute – saw him become the sixth-youngest player to represent Australia, and with the World Cup now on the horizon, there is a real possibility of him being involved in Qatar as one of the youngest players in the whole tournament.
At the same time, reports emerged that Kuol was closing in on a move to Newcastle United, having previously been linked with the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund.
New Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth made a habit of plucking talented youngsters from lesser-known leagues during his time at Brighton, and his swoop for Kuol suggests a similar strategy will be implemented at St. James' Park.
Kuol completed his £300,000 ($336,000) move to the Premier League following his international exertions, and will officially be registered with the club at the start of the January transfer window.
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A two-footed attacker who can play either out wide or as a central striker, Kuol's main strength lies in his one-on-one ability, with his pace and close control making him a nightmare for defenders to stop.
That was illustrated perfectly against Barcelona, and though he did not find the net on that occasion, there is no question that his shooting ability is excellent for a player of his age.
GARRRAANNNGGGG KUOLLLL 🔥🔥🔥— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) April 23, 2022
The 17-year-old seals an enormous three points for @ccmariners sending the away bay into BEDLAM! 💥
Full time wrap: https://t.co/36dkSJV1UG#NEWvCCM #WeAreALeagues @IsuzuUTE pic.twitter.com/Bm29I3KxHk
As a youth, he would regularly cut in from the left-hand side onto his slightly-stronger right foot and fire off shots that were both powerful and accurate.
With elite clubs keen to find players who are dangerous in attacking transitions, Kuol profiles as the ideal forward player for the next generation.
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Room for improvement
Like a lot of teenagers who are looking to make their way in the professional game, Kuol has work to do in terms of his physicality, with his relatively slight frame meaning he can be easy to knocked off the ball at times.
As he takes the next step in his career in terms of quality level, he will need to work on his composure, too, as well as his decision-making in the final third.
All the tools are there, though, for him to become to star of the future.
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The next... Ousmane Dembele?
Until a few months ago that might not have been as the most complimentary comparison, but Dembele's resurgence under Xavi at Barcelona has reminded many of just what a talented player the France international is.
Kuol shares a lot of similar traits, with his two-footedness and willingness to beat men similar to what Dembele showed in his early years at Rennes and Borussia Dortmund.
"He reminds me of a tricky winger with very good feet,” Goulburn Valley Suns technical director, Billy Marshall, told the Herald Sun when comparing Kuol to Dembele.
“When I was playing, I used to feel the pressure, but it doesn’t seem like he does feel the pressure.
🔥 KUOLLLLLLL 🔥— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) April 30, 2022
Garang Kuol owns the big moment 𝙖𝙜𝙖𝙞𝙣! 👊
Central Coast stadium erupts! 💥
Catch all the action LIVE on @ParamountPlusAU 📺
Follow live: https://t.co/H7GNId6JaD#CCMvWUN #WeAreALeagues @IsuzuUTE pic.twitter.com/ujbuxO77DP
"He's like 'If I make a mistake I want the ball at my feet. Even though I make two or three mistakes, I know I can change the game.'
"I think that’s where he is different to other kids I’ve coached and it will take him a long way."
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What comes next?
With the new A-League season kicking-off on October 7, Kuol is back with the Mariners for the opening weeks of the campaign before he completes his move to Newcastle in 2023.
Eddie Howe has suggested that the teenager will be sent out on loan when he does arrive in the north east, though a final decision has not yet been made, especially with a potential role at the World Cup to come first for Kuol.
Longer term, there is the possibility that Kuol becomes a transcendent talent; a player who can raise the profile of 'soccer' in a country that worships its rugby, cricket and Australian Rules football stars.
"I have no doubts whatsoever, he will be one of the best players in the world one day," Carley said.
“It just makes the hairs on your arm stand up when you see him executing some of things that he is doing and scoring some of the goals he’s scoring.
"He’ll go on to become something special. There’s no doubt about it."