Another round of COVID-related postponements meant there were only two A-League Men games this weekend, and which one you saw depended on where you watched.
There is a famous quote in football that has been used many times over: “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”.
This was coined by legendary Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby in relation to the young players that his team became famous for.
A-League Men clubs have never been shy about debuting young players and another milestone was broken on the weekend.
Nestory Irankunda, at the tender age of 15 years and 333 days, made his debut for Adelaide United in the fiery encounter against Melbourne Victory.
His electric pace and youthful exuberance were on show, but so was his disappointing first touch under pressure.
In doing so, Irankunda became the first A-League Men player to get minutes on the pitch who was born after the inaugural A-League Men match took place in 2005.
It also places Irankunda at number six on the list of youngest ever debutants, joining three other Adelaide United players and two from Melbourne City in the top six.
It’s hard to believe that less than two years ago, Irakunda was playing in the NPL under-13 competition and scoring 34 goals in 21 games.
The other five 15-year-olds above him have all endured their own share of trials and tribulations since.
It’s been over ten years since the youngest player ever debuted in the league.
At 15 years and 212 days, Teeboy Kamara came off the bench for Adelaide United in a match against Gold Coast United and played the final half an hour.
Kamara’s form for the youth team could not be overlooked, especially when Adelaide had a spate of injuries in their attacking third.
The talented teen’s dreams of playing professionally ended after contracting hepatitis A and suffering liver problems.
He has since had a nomadic existence in the West Australian and Victorian NPL and was cut from Green Gully. He was recently only picked up by Preston Lions.
At number two on the youngest player list is Idrus Abdulahi, who made his debut for Melbourne City against Central Coast Mariners in the final game of 2019 at 15 years and 216 days.
He scored 33 goals in 25 matches in the NPL under-12s, before being converted into a tough-tackling midfielder at Melbourne City.
Abdulahi has only played for the senior team one time since and appears to be lost in the shuffle of youth players that Melbourne City currently stockpile.
That is a far cry from being one of the star players that got the Joeys to the round of 16 at the under-17 World Cup in Brazil.
At number three on the list is Melbourne City teammate Max Caputo, who made his debut in the Melbourne derby in 2021 at 15 years and 293 days.
Caputo has always been a prolific goal scorer at NPL youth level. He scored 16 goals in 21 matches for the under-12s, 37 goals in 24 matches for the under-13s and 12 goals in 13 matches for the City youth team in the suspended 2021 season.
However, the talented attacker has not added to his one senior match since, as his task has been made almost impossible due to the star-studded Socceroos forward line that Melbourne City have.
Positions four and five on the list go to Irankunda’s teammates Mohamed Toure and Jonny Yull.
Toure still holds the record for youngest ever A-League Men scorer, netting in the dying minutes of a 2020 match against the Central Coast Mariners.
He is the most successful player in this list, collecting over 30 first-team appearances and scoring several goals.
Soft-tissue injuries have hampered his momentum and the jury is still out on whether this prodigy will make it to the very top.
Jonny Yull holds position number five on the list after his debut at 15 years and 321 days in 2020.
The central midfielder is training with the first team, but is yet to see action this season as there are several players competing for spots in a bloated midfield.
‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ might be the mantra – but a 15-year-old boy’s growing body and height coupled with older, experienced pros can derail any prodigious talent.