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  • Writer's pictureChristian Marchetti

Analysing Nestory Irankunda's first Adelaide United start

When the lineups were announced for the A-League Men 2023/24 season opener, Carl Veart's decision to trust Nestory Irankunda from the start for the first time in the young winger's career was met with significant anticipation. Front Page Football looks at how the exciting prospect fared as the Reds made a perfect start to the new campaign.

Nestory Irankunda made his first start in the A-League Men last night. (Adelaide United)

As Adelaide United only made one external signing in the off-season, there was an air of uncertainty surrounding the team ahead of their season opener. The view internally seems to be to trust the talented generation of youngsters coming through at the club, none more so than Nestory Irankunda, who made his name throughout the 2022/23 season by becoming a devastating weapon off the bench.

The winger did not score or assist as the Reds ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against reigning champions the Central Coast Mariners, with goals coming from Ben Halloran, Zach Clough, and a bullet Nick Ansell header. However, Irankunda was undoubtedly a lively presence throughout.

But Veart's team selection meant the tactical direction on the night needed to be slightly altered to suit Irankunda's strengths. Panashe Madanha was drafted in at right-back due to Javi Lopez's absence. To allow Madanha to push higher and provide an attacking threat in possession, Irankunda was instructed to drift inside and occupy positions in the half-space between Nathan Paull and Jacob Farrell and later between Farrell and Noah Smith when Mark Jackson was forced to rejig his backline because of Brian Kaltak's injury.

This tactical tweak can be beneficial for Irankunda. But in the A-League Men, his main threat has come from receiving the ball wide on the touchline and driving at opposing defenders. But by the 17-year-old staying wide in this setup, Madanha could not push further forward. Madanha, at times, inverted into a central area but seemed less assured playing this role compared to someone like Javi Lopez.

Should Lopez-Irankunda be the regular right-sided partnership for Adelaide once the Spaniard returns, Irankunda may be able to occupy more positions in the wide spaces and operate in a way that maximises his current skillset.

Irankunda's skillset was maximised in the 23rd minute when Zach Clough hit the post. The move came from the Reds working the ball out to the winger on the touchline, and he could use the ample space ahead of him to drive and attack his defender. At this early stage of his career, he is understandably better at utilising his sheer pace and power than receiving the ball centrally in tight spaces.

Irankunda is a nightmare for any opposition A-League Men defender concerning 1v1 scenarios, so instructing him to take up positions that will see him in those situations should be encouraged as much as possible. Veart had interesting comments about his positioning, suggesting post-game that the attacker has more versatility than meets the eye.

“We know what we’re going to get with Nestor…I think you saw glimpses of what he can do tonight in 75 minutes. He looks dangerous every time he gets on the ball,” Veart said.

“He can play anywhere, Nestor, because he is such a powerful player, and people think that’s all he has, the speed and that, but his technical ability is very good as well with both feet, and his decision-making generally is very good.”

Should that versatility mean Irankunda can play anywhere across the frontline, then few could argue that point. Veart may also see the youngster as capable of playing as a number nine at some stage. After all, there were moments last night where Irankunda would form a strike partnership with Hiroshi Ibusuki when Adelaide had controlled possession.

When the Reds have dominated the ball during Veart's time at the club, criticism has often come from the team being too reliant on crosses from wide areas. Crosses against the Mariners were sent into the penalty area with purpose, not in a hit-and-hope fashion, and most entries seemed to cause chaos in the opposition box. Irankunda played a significant role in facilitating this feature of United's performance.

The winger can be rightfully frustrated for some of his teammates, namely Ibusuki, not making more of the dangerous deliveries, with the Japanese striker often failing to make contact on low crosses as he was behind play or his positioning was not set. On other occasions, no fellow attackers were present to meet an Irankunda cross. He was perhaps too quick for his adversaries and too fast for his teammates.

Irankunda's pace is undoubtedly one of the biggest weapons in his arsenal. By coming off the bench last season, the winger often entered matches where the game was already stretched, so naturally, more space was available for him to exploit. This open space was particularly prevalent should Adelaide be winning and opposing teams be exposing themselves to potential counterattacks. Starting for the first time, Irankunda had to face the challenge of finding space from the first whistle, where both sides are usually still in a period of conservatism.

The opening period of this fixture was challenging for Irankunda because Jacob Farrell, perhaps buoyed by his previous performances against the winger, was applying heavy physical attention. Additionally, the Mariners' ability to lock Adelaide into their half with an aggressive press meant Irankunda was somewhat isolated and rarely saw the ball in the opening exchanges. But when Kaltak and later Alou Kuol went down injured, the Mariners' game plan had to be altered due to the disjointed nature of a makeshift lineup that saw Farrell shoehorned into a left-sided centre-back role.

As the game went on, Irankunda grew in confidence and felt more comfortable seizing the initiative against the Mariners' backline. The winger needs teammates such as Zach Clough, who was excellent on the night and has the know-how to read his much younger teammate's decisions. Once he settled into the game and his teammates were on the same wavelength, Irankunda terrorised the Mariners.

Should there be a criticism, Irankunda can be too reliant on his 1v1 ability, often feeling the need to always take on his defender instead of using a teammate centrally or, in some cases, around the box, shoot on goal.

Aside from attacking improvement, much work still needs to be done on the defensive side of the game. Irankunda's lack of defensive intensity is often very noticeable in Adelaide United fixtures, particularly in the first half last night, and he will need to apply more on-ball pressure moving forward. Perhaps born out of frustration of not being involved in an attacking sense, the winger can be clumsy when tackling, with a poor challenge on Farrell after 13 minutes springing to mind.

It is not like this aspect of Irankunda's game cannot improve; in the 36th minute, he showed a much better willingness to win possession back, blocking a Farrell clearance before beating Mariners goalkeeper Danny Vukovic to the ball, but nothing came from the second effort.

Corners is another area for improvement for Irankunda. Somewhat surprisingly, Veart entrusted the Australia youth international on these set-pieces, replacing the always reliable and now departed Craig Goodwin from seasons prior. It is a big responsibility to ensure these deliveries are well-spent. After a handful missed the penalty area, Irankunda must keep working on this skill.

But corners and tackling are certainly not the be-all and end-all. Perhaps judging Irankunda on such finite details proves critics are holding him to too high a standard too soon. Veart pointed to expectations needing to be lowered.

“At times, I think we can be a little bit hard on Nestor because we expect so much from him, but he’s still 17, he’s still learning the game, he’s still going to make mistakes, he’s still going to have periods where he’s going to be very quiet,” the manager said.

“It’s just a matter of us working with him because we want Nestor to go on and play in the biggest leagues, for the biggest clubs in world football.”


Most Australian football fans would surely concur with Veart's hopes for Irankunda. One of the A-League Men's hottest young prospects still has a long way to go. After a first start, which saw brilliant moments and room for improvement, fans around the league can continue to grow in excitement as more match minutes reveal how much this phenomenal talent can improve before an inevitable move overseas.

Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the A-Leagues!


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