Nestory Irankunda – Australia’s next star by @scout_aussie
Australian football has always been centred around migrant communities in Australia. A diverse range of ethnic communities have contributed immeasurably to Australian football; the Croatian community has produced stars like Mark Viduka, Mile Jedinak and Ned Zelic, the likes of John Aloisi, Paul Okon and Marco Bresciano have come out of the Italian community, and both Lucas Neill and Harry Kewell were the sons of British migrants to Australia.
Until recently it was European migrant communities producing Australia’s talented footballers. Now, it is African-Australian communities producing Australia’s next generation of talent. Garang Kuol (2004) has just signed for Premier League side Newcastle United, his older brother Alou (2001) is at VfB Stuttgart, while Japan-based Thomas Deng and Cádiz winger Awer Mabil are regular Socceroos.
The next star is Adelaide United winger Nestor Irankunda (2006), who has the potential to be one of Australia’s brightest footballing stars. A product of local South Australian National Premier League side Adelaide Croatia Raiders, Irankunda joined Adelaide United’s youth system last year and immediately made an impression. As a 15 year old in Adelaide United’s reserve team playing against men often double his age, Irankunda scored 3 goals and picked up a handful of assists, impressing with his blinding speed, power and dribbling ability. He soon broke into the Adelaide first team as a 15 year old, scoring an outstanding free-kick to equalise against the Newcastle Jets, and quickly scoring two more stunning goals in only 200 minutes of first team football. He recently made his national team debut, scoring 8 goals and picking up multiple assists in 3 games for Australia U16 in the Asian U16 Qualifiers. He is truly a star in the making.
Irankunda has played both as a right and left winger, and even sometimes as a centre forward. His skillset is varied enough such that he is equally adept on both wings, but he is probably not best utilised as a centre forward.
Irankunda is blessed with incredible speed, both over short and long distances. His agility is outstanding and allows him to glide past opponents and keep the ball in tight spaces. Over a long distance, Irankunda’s speed is blinding. In big spaces, Irankunda is near impossible to defend against. But this is not to say that he is limited in tight spaces. His close control is not perfect but is still impressive; he is a tricky dribbler with the ability and speed to go either way. This allows him to be incredibly unpredictable. This is reflected in his statistics; no A-League winger completed more dribbles per 90 minutes than Irankunda last season, and few made more progressive runs. He likes to carry the ball as much as possible, and often when playing from the left he likes to cut inside and carry the ball centrally to recycle possession. Technically, in general, Irankunda is more than capable at senior level already, although there is still polish to be added to this side of his game. At 16 years old there is ample time for this to improve.
One unique aspect of his skillset is his shooting. Clearly it is something that he has worked hard on over many years. He is right-footed but both willing and capable of shooting on both feet, and for a player of his age he is an outstandingly powerful ball-striker. He can cut inside onto his right-foot, shoot from right to left powerfully (as demonstrated in his goals vs. Perth Glory and Central Coast Mariners), and shoot well on his left foot. He is willing and capable of shooting from distance and he is a threat from free-kicks.
His decision making in critical attacking situations is good. He consistently finds the right pass in attacking overloads and he is not a selfish player – willing to set up teammates when they are in better positions. He is a good right-footed crosser and he has excellent assist numbers for the Adelaide reserve team.
Physically, Irankunda is a phenomenon for his age. He is strong, powerful and as mentioned, exceptionally quick. He has an impressive vertical leap and is good in the air. He can easily hold off opponents at both junior and senior level and he is clearly physically strong. He is not scared in duels and he shows no lack of will to enter into duels even at senior level. His incredible speed allows him to often cause turnovers while pressing as he can cover short distances ridiculously quickly. This is really a weapon out of possession for his teams.
As mentioned, Irankunda can still technically add polish to his game. His first touch can be inconsistent and his speed allows him to compensate for this at times. This is not a significant weakness, more room for improvement.
He has generally played in transitional games – both in the A-League and in the NPL. His performances for the Australia U16 team show that he is capable of playing against more set defences, but he has rarely played against set defences at senior level. With speed being such a significant part of his game – his ability against set defences may need to develop. This is a common theme for A-League wingers who are used to playing in what is a highly transitional competition.
Concentration is a bigger weakness in his game. He can often react badly to mistakes or tackles and his concentration can momentarily dissipate. At junior level this can be easily glossed over, but at senior level this is less acceptable. His workrate out of possession is inconsistent; he sometimes presses ferociously but at other times he is static. These mental attributes need to improve if he wants to fulfil his outstanding potential.
Without a European passport, Irankunda will probably have to wait until 2024 to move to Europe. At the current rate, there will be no shortage of suitors. Irankunda is undoubtedly one of the brightest talents ever seen in Australian football, but there is a long way to go yet. If he can continue his development, he could become a truly outstanding player.