Mariners Academy Director Anton Tagliaferro recently caught up with Alou Kuol who took time during the German winter break to visit family in Australia.
Great to catch up Alou, you’ve had quite a journey in life so far and you’re still only 20 – tell me how you see it so far?
Yes well, I was born in Sudan in 2001 and when I was three my Mum and Dad decided that Sudan wasn’t safe, and we fled into Egypt in a refugee camp. We were really lucky and happy to be accepted into Australia in 2004 and we ended up in St Mary’s in Sydney before moving to Shepparton a year later where my family have settled since. Shepparton was a really laid-back friendly place, and it was then that I started playing football with the Goulburn Valley Suns and my love of the game began.
And here you are now playing in the Bundesliga for one of the top clubs in Germany – how did that happen?
After playing with the Academy teams of the Goulburn Valley Suns for a few years, I made it into the first team which was playing in the Victorian NPL 2, and at age 18 I won the Golden Boot award for the division after scoring 22 goals in the 2018/19 season. This attracted the attention of a couple of A-League clubs in Melbourne and I was invited to trial for a few days with Melbourne Victory and then for two weeks with Western United but neither of these teams came forward with a concrete offer, so I returned to Shepparton a bit disappointed. Not long after, my fortunes changed, and I got a call from the Mariners and was invited for a trial up in Gosford for a couple of weeks.
What happened from there?
While on trial there, Ken [Schembri] and Monty [Nick Montgomery] invited me to join the NPL team so I had to make the big decision to leave my family in Shepparton and move to the Central Coast – but in hindsight it was the best decision I ever made, and everything was really enjoyable up on the Coast. Things really started to happen after I joined the Mariners and Ken, Monty, and Sergio [Raimundo] were fantastic as they really took me under their wing and helped me develop my game tactically and improve my finishing in front of goal. They also worked really hard to boost my confidence and that helped greatly as I began scoring goals regularly for the Mariners NPL team in 2020. The three of them taught me so much and without their input, I don’t think I would find myself where I am today.
In early 2020, I was offered a scholarship to join the Mariners and signed my first professional contract – this was a big step for me. In that same year I was invited for a trial with Sporting Lisbon’s under 19 team in Portugal which was my first taste of a big European club and it was an awesome experience however never worked out the way I had hoped, and I made a return down under.
What happened after that?
When I returned to Australia, Ken and Monty had pushed for me to start training with the Mariners first team – this was a really big step for me to train with such a great group of players like Matty Simon – and the tempo was much quicker than what I had ever experienced, and I had to work hard to get up to speed. I made my debut in the A-League coming off the bench in March 2020 – but to be honest it was the next season, where I really started to make my mark in the A-League. It started fantastically when I scored the winning goal in the Mariners 1-0 win vs Newcastle Jets in Gosford in our first game of the season. I have to say that scoring that winning goal in front of the home fans and the Gosford community who had been so supportive of me in a derby match, has so far been the highlight of my career! I ended up scoring seven goals last season – many of them decisive ones when I came off the bench – and it helped the team finish 3rd in the A-League which was a big turnaround from previous seasons.
Yes, it was a big season for you – although what happened next was pretty incredible too?
At the end of the 2020/21 A-League season, I was told that there were two European teams who were both interested in signing me – an English Premier League team and a Bundesliga one. It was quite incredible news really. In the end, I chose to sign for VfB Stuttgart on a four-year deal as I thought this was a better step for my career. I arrived in Germany in July 2021 and settled in well. I have an apartment where I live on my own and ever since I got here, I have focused completely on my football and I have been working really hard to improve as a player. VfB Stuttgart is a massive club in Germany with a huge fan base and a massive stadium with a capacity of 60,000 which is frequently sold out. So far, I have played 18 games for the under 23 side and scored seven goals, so it is going really well for me so far.
So, what the next step for you Alou?
As one can imagine, the standard of football at a club like VfB Stuttgart is really, really high. The under 23 squad trains on its own pitch at the same centre as the first team. At VfB, we are also given very intense individual training sessions in groups of two or three where the coaches focus on improving any weaknesses that they see in us. I have also been invited to train with the first team on quite a few occasions – this has been a real eye opener as the tempo and standard is unbelievably high and it reminds me how much I need to continue to work to get to that level, so it’s often a big motivator to me.
I am hoping that if I can continue to work hard and improve that I will be playing regularly in the Bundesliga in the next one or two seasons. I am also hoping to be called up for the Olyroos squad as the next Olympic qualifying campaign will begin and I am at the right age for this. My ultimate dream is to one day play and score for Australia in a World Cup – this would make my family – who have always made big sacrifices for us kids so proud – it would simply be an incredible moment if it happened one day, but that’s my dream and what keeps me working hard every day.