The Roar
The Roar


Does the A-League do enough to nurture creative players?

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10th March, 2024
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One of the most exciting players in world football scored a goal that should send shockwaves around the globe this weekend, but does anyone in Australia even care?

Bayern München must be licking their lips.

Nestory Irankunda is as talented as Harry Kewell or Mark Viduka was at the same age, but does the media attention around the A-League – or lack thereof – highlight that fact?

It’s hard to understand why the Bavaria-bound Irankunda wasn’t included in Tony Vidmar’s 26-man squad for the West Asian Football Federation Under-23 championship in Saudi Arabia.

It’s not like he’s been pulling up trees for the Socceroos – having featured just twice in Graham Arnold’s squad, where he failed to get on the pitch in two friendlies against Ecuador more than a year ago.

Yet Irankunda is a generational talent, and as his goal on Saturday night in a typically heated Original Rivalry proved, he’s more than capable of changing the trajectory of any game at the drop of a shoulder.

So what are we doing with this kid?


There’s an argument to be made – and it’s not like Nestory is the only victim of this – that tossing him in at the deep end runs the risk of exposing him to too much pressure, far too soon.

Yet as we’ve seen time and again with Irankunda, he’s simply too quick, too good, and far too skilful for hardened A-League defenders to try and stop him.

How come, then, he can’t stay in Adelaide United’s starting side?

Didn’t Nick Garcia – the latest head of the Australian Professional Leagues – only recently call the A-League “a development league?”

So who’s developing Irankunda?

We all know – and it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge this – that the 18-year-old hasn’t been anywhere near as explosive as he was last season.

But like Daniel Arzani at Melbourne Victory– the impish creative talent whose reward for his game-changing abilities is a spot on Tony Popovic’s bench – it feels like there’s a punishment for being more skilful than others at play here.


Is it tall poppy syndrome? Why do creative players seem to be singled out – and benched – more than your average workhorse?

And more to the point, what mainstream media remains to ask the likes of Popovic or Carl Veart why this continues to happen?

We saw this again on Sunday afternoon, when Sydney FC defender Jake Girdwood-Reich was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Brisbane Roar attacker Nikola Mileusnic.

Referee Adam Kersey originally handed the Sky Blues defender a yellow – which was the correct interpretation to just about everyone in the stadium – but for the umpteenth time this season, VAR re-refereed the incident and upgraded Kersey’s caution to a red.

It was yet another unwarranted decision from a league that specialises in them, but can’t seem to understand why Allianz Stadium remains four-fifths empty in perfect conditions on a Sunday afternoon.

Who in their right mind is paying good money to watch VAR decisions and not a genuine contest between 11 versus 11 on the pitch?


The A-League has a huge problem with the entertainment it serves up on a regular basis.

Which is a frustrating thing to write following a weekend in which 17 goals were scored and Melbourne City go around again versus Western Sydney Wanderers on Tuesday night.

The biggest difference between the A-League and just about any other developing league around the world – including competitions like Major League Soccer and the J. League we perhaps once hoped to be on par with – is the overwhelming absence of fans in the stands.

But the league – whether the APL or the clubs themselves – have done practically nothing to resolve this problem.

Maybe in a parallel universe there are people who actually enjoy watching yellow cards get upgraded to red for poorly-timed but hardly malicious challenges.

But most of us just want to watch Nestory Irankunda belt them in from 25 yards.


Until the APL figures that out, we’re left with the diehard few watching a league most casual fans abandoned long ago.