It seems as if every person who encounters him has declared Garang Kuol ready to make an impact at this World Cup – now we know he agrees with them.
The much-talked-about 18-year-old is in the frame for at least one cameo off the bench during Australia’s group matches in Qatar.
But if he was nervous about facing the likes of France, Tunisia and Denmark, you wouldn’t know it.
“Of course,” he said matter of factly when asked if he can make a difference for the Socceroos. “It’s all about just having confidence in yourself and being ruthless, and having that mindset to want to create something and make an impact.
“It’s a very exciting experience for me. I’ve been watching the Socceroos for a long time and the World Cup’s the biggest stage, so that’s just where I want to prove myself.”
The hype about Kuol is real, and warranted.
Despite having not started a single senior game for his club, Central Coast Mariners, the teenager dazzled in an Australian All Stars friendly against Barcelona in May and earned praise from manager Xavi Hernandez, who said “it’s incredible that he’s 17 years old”.
Since then he has become the youngest player to receive a Socceroos call-up since Harry Kewell and will become a Newcastle United player in January, with a promise from the club’s manager, Eddie Howe, to be patient in his development.
In short, he is largely untested but also one of Australia’s most dangerous assets.
He is the second-youngest player at Qatar 2022 – he is 66 days older than Germany’s Youssoufa Moukoko – and will become the youngest Socceroo to play should he get the chance.
For him that’s “just a label”; what matters more is proving himself against reigning champions France on Tuesday night (Wednesday 6am AEDT).
“I wouldn’t say intimidation,” he said. “I find it more exciting, to see what you can do against players of that calibre.
“I don’t really pay attention to what’s said around me. I’m mainly just focused on what I do in the field and training and the game.
“If I’m not playing well, I’m not going to look at what’s online. What I do on the field makes me happy or gives me motivation to keep pushing forward.”
Kuol’s lack of conditioning for a full 90 minutes means he will likely be used sparingly by coach Graham Arnold, who has told the prodigious talent he has “plenty of belief” in him.
But he did participate in a two-hour intra-team game during training this week at the Socceroos’ Doha base, the Aspire Academy.
“Intensity was a killer, I’m still getting used to it,” he said. “The boys play quick, the ball just zips around. It’s a whole lot of chasing. We’re trying to mirror what France would do.”
“Speaking with Arnie, it’s been very chill. He hasn’t really said much. He just told me he has plenty of belief in me. I’ve just got to keep training well and to prove myself.”
Kuol has support within the playing group, in particular from fellow South Sudanese refugees Awer Mabil and Thomas Deng.
Born in Egypt in 2004 after his family fled South Sudan, he moved to Australia as a baby and settled in Shepparton, Victoria, growing up with seven siblings including older brother Alou, 21, who is on the books of VfB Stuttgart and is also a Mariners product.
“It’s a journey we’ve all been on as a family,” Kuol said. “Three years back my mum’d driving me to Melbourne every two weeks – two hours there, two hours back. They’re very happy for me. They’re just telling me to do my best and make them proud.
“There’s people that spur me in the right direction. Obviously my coach at the Mariners, my parents, older brothers, these two next to me, they all play a part in the way I carry myself out and take everything in.”
Kuol, Mabil and Deng represent the changing face of Australia’s national team in line with the country’s multi-cultural society.
“We have a motivation to try to [represent] not just the Australian community but also kids from our community especially, because sometimes it’s easy to go down the wrong path,” Mabil said.
“As a kid, I wanted to see somebody from my community showing us the way. So that’s our motivation, to try and push higher so we can show these kids the way.”
Those kids include Kuol.
“He’s been good since he’s come in,” Deng said. “He’s just a young kid who wants to play football. He’s just full of confidence and he’s got a really bright future ahead of him. We’re just trying to help him learn in the right way.”