Bundesliga bound: Alou Kuol's European dream realised along rise to A-League stardom
Alou Kuol will end his teenage years as a bona fide A-League star, and venture into his 20's as a burgeoning talent flirting with the prospect of making his name on the European stage.
The 19-year-old will depart Central Coast Mariners for VfB Stuttgart at the conclusion of the 2020/21 A-League campaign - that much is known for sure. What remains unknown is how far the South Sudanese refugee can take his seemingly limitless potential, as he prepares to trade life on the Gosford coast for a place amongst the ranks of one of the German Bundesliga's founding clubs.
Kuol arrived on the A-League scene in the 2019/20 campaign under cover of darkness. The gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic banished crowds from the stands as the league restarted in July, 2020 - Kuol had just 17 minutes of game time under his belt at that stage, accrued in a 6-2 loss to Western United in March as the pandemic began to engulf the world.
Football returned after a four-month hiatus. The Mariners resumed the season on a 10-game losing streak, which would extend to 11 in mid-July before a 0-0 draw with Newcastle Jets stopped the rot.
Kuol made his first start in the drought-snapping draw, and was interviewed by FOX Sports in the aftermath. There's been no forgetting the charismatic young man since.
"I was playing for Goulburn Valley Suns," Kuol told Robbie Slater after the final whistle, when asked to explain his footballing origins.
"I started off there, I wasn't really going for anything - I just wanted to score, like, 10 goals,"
"The season went along I scored four goals in one game, ended up, like, top scorer within a week.
"From there I started to believe in myself, started to work harder in training. By the end of the season I was three goals down (in the top-scorer race), and I scored a hat-trick to win the league Golden Boot.
"(Nick Montgomery) found me, so I came here for a trial... and the rest was history, man.
"Here I am, man, on the big stage."
"Wow, that's a bit of personality right there," FOX Sports presenter Adam Peacock said at the conclusion of Kuol's interview.
"Outstanding. Alou Kuol, please play in the A-League for a very long time."
But less than a year after that post-match interview, everything has changed for the kid giving a shout-out to 'the boys watching back home' in Shepparton, Victoria after his first Mariners start against the Jets.
Central Coast ended the 2019/20 A-League campaign with a win - the club's first in just under seven months - and carried that form into the 2020/21 season, bursting out of the blocks as an early title contender. Kuol exuded confidence with a series of jaw-dropping performances early doors, making his name as an unstoppable second-half substitute capable of emerging from the bench to tear games in half.
Kuol scored six goals in his first nine games of the season as the Mariners - a team with three consecutive bottom-placed finishes - surged to the top of the table. Kuol earned the February nomination for Young Player of the Year as he typified the Mariners' newly-found resilience and confidence, daring the fans in Gosford to dream whilst making it nigh on impossible for neutral observers not to root for the team making waves in 2021.
It wasn't just the eyes of the nation fixated on Kuol's show-stopping antics - the young forward's displays had caught the attention of clubs overseas, and whispers of an international transfer began to circulate.
And on April 17, it was confirmed: Kuol would depart the Mariners for VfB Stuttgart at the conclusion of the 2020/21 campaign. Turning 20 in July, Kuol will depart his teenage years having left an unforgettable mark on the A-League, a completely unique imprint of a bright young man brimming with self belief, who plays the game in his own unique style.
Kuol told Vince Rugari from the Sydney Morning Herald he cried for an hour when it came time to leave everything he knew behind and trade home in Victoria for a brand new life in Gosford with the Mariners. You can only imagine the emotions floating through his mind as he now prepares to swap life on the coast for south-west Germany.
"But it turned out for the best, I guess. I stopped crying and just got on with it," He told Rugari. It's safe to assume the confident kid with the world at his feet will approach this challenge with the same attitude.
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