It has been a whirlwind year for Newcastle United transfer target Garang Kuol.
The 18-year-old made a debut appearance for A-League club Central Coast Mariners in an FFA Cup win over APIA Leichhardt last December and has enjoyed a rapid rise to the top.
A league debut followed in April, when Kuol netted his first senior goal in a 5-0 win against Wellington Phoenix and kickstarted a run of four goals in his first seven appearances.
His form led to Kuol being selected for an A-League All-Stars game against Barcelona - it would be a game that would bring the youngster to the attention of supporters and clubs around the world.
Praise from a Barcelona legend
Kuol produced some magical moments against the La Liga giants and drew praise from Barca coach Xavi in the aftermath of the game.
“He did really well. He created many chances, almost scored,” Xavi told Network 10 post-game.
“So 16 years quite young. Dwight Yorke told me, maybe he’s a big liar. But 16, unbelievable.
“All the best for him and all the players.”
Speculation over Kuol’s future began to dominate the headlines.
There was talk of a move to Europe but the youngster seemed determined to remain loyal to the two men that guided his introduction into life in the senior game.
Speaking at the end of his first season with the club, he said: “Monty [Mariners coach Nick Montgomery] and Serg [(Sergio Raimundo, Assistant Coach) have had belief in me since day one which something I will never forget.
“Football is my number one goal in life so I just want to be playing consistently and I am very excited to be here alongside a great bunch of boys and can’t wait for next season.
“This is only the start for me and I am keen to develop more, learn more and become a better player under Monty and Serg.”
‘One of the A-League’s most exciting talents in a long time’
Montgomery gave a clear indication the admiration was mutual as he gave an insight into just how the youngster has adapted so quickly and met every challenge through his way.
He said: “Garang isn’t fazed by anything and is very level-headed, which is why he made Barcelona seem like an easy assignment and in the process, being an inspiration for all kids in this country. It gave our club great pride to see him make the match his own.
“I look forward to working with him for the next two years at the club and developing him further to become one of the A-League’s most exciting talents in a long time.”
With so much hype surrounding his development, it would be easy for the youngster to get caught up and get carried away.
A grounded and relaxed talent
But Kuol remains grounded, with his parents playing such a key role in keeping him focused, something the talented forward eluded to in a recent interview.
“(My parents) do anything and everything for us,” Garang told the ABC.
“They used to work all day every day, just to make sure there’s food on our plates, (and) drive two hours to Melbourne every second week.”
He wants to repay them by following in the footsteps of players like Awer Mabil and Thomas Deng — his inspiration.
“They’re like my brothers ... they sort of welcomed me and sort of took me under their wing and showed me around.
“It’s good to see fellow African footballers make their way.
“Because it gives us hope that we can do something with our lives ... especially coming from families that came from struggle.”
Kuol took his biggest step yet over the last week when he was named in the Australia senior squad for the first time.
Despite being the man to hand Kuol a maiden opportunity to shine at international level, Australia manager Graham Arnold delivered some perspective on the youngster’s development following a 2-0 win against New Zealand.
“He’s come in and settled in very well, all the boys love him,” said Arnold.
“He felt very relaxed when he went onto the pitch because he’s already part of the family.
“He’s quick, obviously, but he needs improvement in his decision-making and in his defensive efforts.”
Chris Wood asked about Newcastle’s interest in Kuol
Magpies striker Chris Wood missed out on witnessing Kuol’s senior debut at first-hand after a rib injury ruled him out of the game.
But watching on from the sidelines, the New Zealand star got to see Kuol play a key role in his side’s second goal of the night, as he played a key role in the build-up to Australia’s second goal of the night.
Speaking about the Magpies interest in Kuol ahead of the game, Wood told the Sydney Morning Herald: “I haven’t seen him play, but I’ve heard a lot about him over the week or two, with the link.
“I’m sure he’s a very exciting talent if a club like us are looking at him, especially with where the club’s going to go in the next few years.”
Kuol’s immediate focus will be on preparing for the new A-League season and doing what he can to secure a place in the Australia squad for the World Cup Finals.
But his preparations for both have been played out in front of increasing speculation over a possible move to Newcastle.
Sky Sports News have reported the Magpies have agreed a deal ‘in principle’ with the Central Coast Mariners and the youngster is expected to travel to Tyneside to discuss personal terms.
Succeeding on the biggest stage
The 18-year-old and one Mariners boss Montgomery believes Kuol has been given the ‘fundamentals’ to succeed at any level.
“Any young player has aspirations to play at the highest level,” he told Fox Sports.
“As a club, to have massive clubs around the world contacting us about one of our players and not just one of our players, we have interest in a number of our young players, it’s good.
“You never know, you don’t have a crystal ball, but you give them the right grounding, and they remain humble, it doesn’t matter what happens or what move they get, as long as they keep the fundamentals, they keep that attitude and desire you try to drill into them, you hope they can succeed at any level.
“Whether it’s Garang, or the other players we have that have got interest from clubs overseas, when the time comes, is there any great timing? Is timing the most important thing, that can only be told a few years or a few months after it happens.”
If he is selected in Arnold’s squad for the tournament, it now seems likely Magpies supporters to get to witness the youngster’s talents in Qatar just weeks before he officially completes a move to Tyneside.