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  • Writer's pictureChristian Marchetti

The agent's perspective: Nestory Irankunda signs for Bayern Munich

It's one of the most significant transfers in Australian football history. Nestory Irankunda's blockbuster move from Adelaide United to German giants Bayern Munich will accumulate a club-record fee for the Reds. It will only increase the high expectations surrounding the 17-year-old and his career trajectory. In this exclusive interview, Front Page Football spoke to Irankunda's agent, Adrian Griffin, about the move, why Bayern is the right club for the teenage sensation and the potential long-term impact of the transfer on young Australian talent.

Griffin (left) with Nestory Irankunda as the young star poses with a Bayern Munich shirt. (Adelaide United)


When 10 Football commentator Andy Harper dropped a bombshell linking Nestory Irankunda with a move to Bayern Munich, one of the biggest clubs in world football, amidst a live broadcast in late April, the Australian football landscape was taken by storm. Almost seven months later, the rumour would be proven true, as earlier this week, the A-League Men's hottest young prospect was announced to be joining the Bavarians on July 1 next year.


Irankunda's sensational breakout into Australia's premier domestic competition meant speculation surrounding an overseas move was rife, particularly in the past six months. After all, we are talking about a talent who announced himself by scoring his first-ever league goal at 15, the strike itself coming from a free-kick away from home against the Newcastle Jets. Further world-class strikes over the past 22 months have only heightened the excitement surrounding the young winger.


But such intrigue in Irankunda's talent, both in Australia and abroad, made it imperative to ensure the inevitable next career move was calculated with all the on-field and off-field factors considered. So why Bayern Munich, and how did they meet the extensive criteria Irankunda and his representation sought when sifting through the various interested parties overseas?


“The most important factor was what the club had planned for him. Bayern really presented well; they outlined a plan for him. They weren’t signing him for the sake of signing him," Griffin told Front Page Football recently.


“Germany is a very good development league, which is another factor. We chose to really target that country.


“Is the player going to be comfortable? Is he going to develop? We believe at Bayern Munich, he will.”

A club of Bayern's stature can invest in a holistic approach to player development, including preparing young talent off the pitch for success. Griffin expanded on the club's plan for Irankunda, a player still in the infancy of his personal development, let alone the football side.


“They’re going to have people looking after him; they’ve explained that to us. He’ll pretty much have some full-time people he can call whenever. They’re going to look after him," he said.


“We didn’t just pick a club without going through a lot of the support networks and the off-field things. With strong off-field foundations, you’ll see the best of him on the field."

The agent further explained how Irankunda's unique talent made this particular transfer different from the other young Australians who have jumped ship for a European move at the early stages of their careers.


“We’ve just got to give him time, we’ve got to give him patience, we’ve got to give him respect," Griffin said.


“I also don’t think it’s fair to compare him to other Australian players because I don’t think any other Australian player has the attributes he does. There are not many Australians scoring goals at 15 (professionally).

“He’s obviously going to have to start (training), and nothing’s given, especially at a club like Bayern Munich. But he’s willing to work and we’re looking forward to it."


Prevalent in the interview with Griffin was how much weight was placed on the support Irankunda would receive from his next club when weighing up the significant interest. It is undoubtedly clear this aspect ensured Bayern stayed at the front of the queue of European clubs vying to secure the youngster's services.


“This was one of the reasons we picked Bayern Munich, because of the support network they have and the track record of looking after overseas players from across the world. We’re working on support networks; we’ve got a partner there who is based in Germany, Jan (van Baal)," Griffin added.


As mentioned above, another critical factor in choosing Bayern is their ability to develop talent from parts of the world that have not historically produced world-class players, or at least those capable of playing in one of Europe's top five leagues. Griffin explained this aspect in more detail, citing the rise of Canadian star Alphonso Davies as an example of Bayern's different approach.


“They are one of the few major European clubs that have scouting networks everywhere. We saw this with Alphonso Davies. They took a risk on a player from a non-traditional football league like the MLS and developed him into a superstar," he said.

Alphonso Davies upon being announced as a new Bayern Munich player in 2018. (FC Bayern München)


Time will tell whether Irankunda can reach the same ceiling Davies has, and we will still have to wait a while to see how the move plays out. In the meantime, as is often the case in the aftermath of a significant transfer story's conclusion, speculation has emerged about the additional clubs interested in the 17-year-old and whether any other negotiations reached an advanced stage.


Griffin revealed that "five or six clubs" were identified early in the process as well-suited to Irankunda's development. It is understood that other clubs not sought out by Irankunda's representation also occasionally enquired.


The process was extensive and approached thoroughly. Bayern was undoubtedly chosen for its commitment to developing Irankunda's limitless potential. But Griffin also explained how Germany was considered the ideal market, alluding to the country's history of providing a suitable environment for Australian talent.


“Germany has a track record of developing young Australian players; we’ve seen that with Mathew Leckie, Mitch Langerak, Robbie Kruse. It’s an easier place to adapt to than other countries, and Bayern Munich’s probably the best development program in the whole country. We are sort of seeing that with (Jamal) Musiala, Alphonso Davies, and other players,” he explained.


The factors going into the decision certainly provide a fascinating picture of how there is much more to a deal like this one than the financial side. Nonetheless, it is a monumental monetary transfer for Adelaide United.


Australian football followers, mainly because of a severe lack of media coverage, have often not received an insight into the negotiating process behind the most significant transfers that have exported domestic talent overseas. In this case, not every day a club of Bayern's stature negotiates a transfer with Adelaide United, particularly with a fee that could rise into the millions.


It is understood that Irankunda's age, the attacker still yet to celebrate his 18th birthday, helped prolong the negations with Bayern, as there was no need for haste with no set transfer deadline. Griffin revealed more about the nature of the negotiations and how this deal differed from the other significant transfers of Australians overseas we have seen in recent years.


“These [transfers] aren’t easy to do. You’ve got the selling club, and you’ve got to make Adelaide happy as well, and the good thing for us was, everyone on our side, we’re all on the same page," he said.


“Bayern were patient. It was probably a unique situation because there was a lot of going back and forth, which Adelaide are entitled to do. Not just talking about Adelaide but any A-League club; sometimes players get offers, the buying club has a set budget to spend, and if it’s not done quickly, the deal could be off.

“But we were in a bit of a unique situation that Nestory is a special talent, and they know he’s a special talent, and they were willing to negotiate over a long period."

Aspects of the transfer itself are noteworthy to discuss and understand. But at the end of the day, Irankunda is the subject at hand, and the deal finally reaching its conclusion is undoubtedly a positive for him.


One of the most fundamental aspects of Irankunda's life outside football is the strong family and community he is surrounded by. It's one he will leave behind, but it has also helped him reach this landmark moment. Griffin lauded the Burundian community supporting his client and suggested that more of this community's talent should emerge into professional setups.


“He comes from a great family, a great community; there’s so much talent in that Burundian community. If I was an A-League club, I’d go scout…because a good group of them could easily play A-League.”

Irankunda is flying the flag for his local community, which has already been established, regardless of how the move to Munich pans out. But what about the impact of a successful German venture on the market for other Australian players?


Griffin explained how overseas clubs' perception of the country's talent, youth or otherwise, has dwindled in recent years. He believes it needs to be a collective effort by all A-League Men exports to help boost perceptions abroad.


“It’s not fair to put everything onto him (Irankunda). You’ve got Jordan Bos, Marco Tilio, (Cristian) Volpato. If they all do well, the A-League will be respected more and Australian talent will get more opportunities around the world. It’s not just Europe; it’s Asia, too," Griffin said.


“The Scottish market, for example, has opened for us because players have gone to Scotland and performed. Now, if players go to Germany [and] Belgium and perform, then other markets are going to open as well, so I guess it could be an exciting time for Australian football."

Thus, considering Australian talent is less valued overseas than it once was, it is interesting to understand whether current perceptions impacted aspects of Irankunda's deal, like his transfer fee. The various reported figures have been met with two primary reactions. Many were ecstatic to see the monetary gain an A-Leagues club could generate from selling one of their young players, whilst many also bemoaned it, feeling Australian talent was being significantly undervalued compared to other markets.


Griffin sees why, based on Irankunda's talent alone, people would argue that his transfer fee should be higher. But crucially, he also pointed out the length of his current contract, which is running out at the end of the current season. No club will pay a fee astronomically higher than a player's value should they have less than a year on their contract, irrespective of where they play.


Nonetheless, Irankunda's agent gave his thoughts on the argument of Australian talent being undervalued abroad, providing greater context and suggesting the blame should not only be placed on overseas clubs.


“If Nestor was in a European or South American country, absolutely his transfer fee would be larger. But the reality is that’s Australian football’s problem and fault because the MLS clubs are selling their players for large transfers, and it’s not just slapping a transfer fee," he said.


“For example, North American clubs scout our NPL better than A-League clubs…it’s crazy. We need more professional clubs, more visibility, and I think that will help the transfer market with more clubs, more players.

“It’s not a competition; we shouldn’t be comparing the Brazilian market to the Australian market.


“I know people think maybe Australian talent is bought cheap, but it has got to go both ways. I think you need more professional clubs, better scouting; the A-League clubs need to sign the best players available, and obviously doing that would lift the league."

 

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Irankunda celebrates an incredible free kick against Melbourne City with his Adelaide United teammates. (Courtney Pedlar)


Another aspect of this side of the transfer was what is known as "tiering systems", which clubs such as Bayern use to rank different leagues worldwide so they are informed of what the transfer price may be for a particular player.


Griffin used an example of how a German club would likely pay a significant fee for a striker in his late 20s scoring goals in Croatia, as opposed to a player with the same age profile producing similar performances in the A-League Men. Overall, Australia's domestic competition may be relatively close to the Croatian first tier in terms of quality. But the success of Croatians in the German market and elsewhere in Europe means they are valued higher as exports.

As Griffin explained, when the likes of Leckie, Langerak, and Kruse played in Germany, and with much success, A-League clubs sold more players to clubs in Asia than they are now. The region witnessed the success of Australians in a competitive market like Europe. As a result, they were willing to pay good money to bring it to their respective leagues.


So perhaps a successful Bayern Munich career for Irankunda could be trailblazing in more ways than one. But such a conversation is not relevant now. It is essential to appreciate the significance of this transfer, with the process revealing just how much planning and consideration went into ensuring the 17-year-old's next move turns fruitful.


Many in the Australian football sphere will undoubtedly have a vested interest when Irankunda begins his new adventure next year. But the best feature of this deal is that this young prospect will still be taking breaths away and leaving more fans jaw-dropped on Australian shores for the remainder of the 2023/24 season.


Drink it in, enjoy it, and dedicate time to watch him because Nestory Irankunda is box office. It is why he has achieved such a monumental move this early into what could be an unbelievable career to witness from afar.


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

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