Over the past month, Nestory Irankunda has announced himself as a future star on the A-League Men stage.
Airton Andrioli, who brought Irankunda to the Reds, explained to The Inner Sanctum the hard work, development, and the process behind his early success along with the way forward for the talented youngster.
Irankunda shocked the A League-Men scene when he stepped up and scored a stunning free kick past Newcastle’s Jack Duncan to begin United’s last ditch comeback that secured all three points at the Hunter Valley.
It has been a meteoric rise to stardom for the 16-year-old but one that has been achieved by a bright talent putting in the hard work, with a touch of fortune.
To most fans, the emergence of Irankunda is something that has come out of nowhere, but with all these stories, there is a process behind the final product we see.
Adelaide United’s youth team coach and A-League Men assistant coach Airton Andrioli has shared his insight with The Inner Sanctum on the youngster’s journey from Adelaide Croatia Raiders under 15s to scoring an A-League Men goal in just under two years.
Andrioli was in a unique position to notice a talent like Irankunda before his time with the Reds.
“We have to go back to 2020 when I was still working at the Federation (FFSA) through the National Talent Centre (NTC) program,” he reflected.
“I was watching a game midweek with the under 14 development squad playing against Raiders under 15 squad as part of my job.
“Nestor caught everyone’s attention by scoring a tremendous goal from outside the box and he showed a lot of positive things.
“We decided to invite him for a couple of weeks of training with the NTC program, which I was responsible for back then, just to see how he would respond to training in a bit of a higher level. We then offered him a spot to come in.”
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Impressing Andrioli in the stands was not Irankunda’s last piece of good fortune.
With Carl Veart being appointed full time to the Adelaide United coaching job, the club was keen on streamlining the pathways leading to its A-League Men side.
Chairman Piet Van der Pol had made his vision clear that the club’s philosophy is to develop young South Australian players.
With Veart previously working at the NTC, it was only natural that Andrioli was selected to lead the Reds’ youth team in the NPL SA, the two already sharing an eight year working relationship in the local field.
Andrioli described bringing Irankunda on board to the NPL side as “no brainer”, and that ended up being a shrewd decision.
Irankunda’s first season as a Red went better than everyone expected.
Starting out in the NPL reserves team, it only took him a couple of weeks to start making appearances for the senior NPL side, juggling playing for both sides for most of the season.
Irankunda ended the season with three goals in 15 appearances for United’s senior NPL side, while for the reserves he netted a combined seven goals in 13 games. Impressive numbers for the 15-year-old at the time, while he was still learning his craft every time he stepped out on the field.
Seeing Irankunda play senior football so soon was a shock to many, and Andrioli stressed that it is not an opportunity that is just handed to anyone.
Every player brought into the United system is capable but is challenged in the way they require, with the final goal to prove they can cut it at the top level.
Andrioli referenced the youngster’s first friendly appearance for the Reds NPL reserves as a sign of his bright future.
“Nestor came in and I remember the first game he played for the reserves squad, it was a friendly game against Adelaide Victory, and he did not do too bad in that game, he scored a hat trick!,” he said.
“Obviously he then went from one stage to the next one, he continued training well, doing well for the reserves. Then there was an opportunity to see him playing at a senior level, we brought him on from the bench, and I guess the rest is history.
“Every time Nestor was put into a higher level, he was able to have an impact.
“Nestor is still a young kid and we have a lot of work to do with him, but he started off in the reserves, doing well and gradually we started providing him with a greater challenge, which credit to him, he responded very well to all of them.”
Embracing the pathways
Adelaide United exposing Irankunda to top level senior football and opportunities to affect matches highlights the club’s ever-growing commitment to youth development in South Australia, a passion project for both Veart and Andrioli.
It has not always been easy for players like Irankunda to break into the United ranks, a fact that Andrioli and co. have been proactively correcting during their time at the Reds.
“I know that in the past there was a bit of an obstacle with some players not coming into Adelaide United for whatever reason,” he explained.
“When I met Bruce [Djite] in 2020, we wanted to bridge that gap.”
Under this management, the Reds have embraced many members of the NPL SA side including Irankunda himself, Yaya Dukuly, Jonny Yull, Ethan Alagich, Bernardo, and Mohamed Toure.
Andrioli was clear that this is something that will continue.
“The club has a policy of developing young players, we want to continue to do that and I think we have a good set up,” he said.
“We all believe in the same philosophy of brining these players up when they are ready and giving them opportunities.
“Myself, Ross [Aloisi] and Carl are all on the same page, we have known each other for a long time.
“When those players come up and they are ready, we are more than happy to provide them with the opportunity to play at the higher level, because that is the club’s philosophy.”
Despite Irankunda’s blistering past couple of years, Andrioli is keen to keep the youngster grounded.
When deciding how the coaching group will split his time between A-League Men and NPL SA, he insists that patience is a virtue.
“I think that is a decision that we will make together as a coaching staff, we will try and nurse him through and make sure that we do not burn him out too much at the early stages,” Andrioli explained.
“For example, he was not on the bench this weekend [against Sydney FC] despite coming on and scoring a great goal last week against Newcastle.
“He played for the youth team on Saturday and played really well.”
At the end of the day, only recently turning 16 years of age, Irankunda is still a kid who is at least decade away from his prime.
Veart and Andrioli have worked with the state’s best and brightest talents, and want to ensure that Irankunda does not burn out before his career even takes off.
The focus right now is patience and an education on what it takes to be a professional footballer, along with offering the youngster the appropriate opportunities and tools to continue developing.
Andrioli highlighted how much Irandkunda has already developed to “a completely different person” since the day he met him, proving his commitment to becoming a professional footballer.
United will be hoping that under the experienced tutelage of Veart and Andrioli, that in time, Irankunda will continue his development to become a great footballer and person the South Australian community can be proud of.
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