Nestory Irankunda: Burundi hope to woo Bayern Munich-bound wonderkid

Burundi FA president Alexandre Muyenge met Nestory Irankunda (left) and his father Gideon (right) on a trip to Australia

The Burundi Football Association still hopes to convince Nestory Irankunda to play for the country of his parents after the teenager agreed a move to German giants Bayern Munich.

The 17-year-old Adelaide United forward was born in a refugee camp in Tanzania and now lives in Australia, and has represented his adopted country at under-17 level.

He has already been part of the senior Australia set-up, having been an unused substitute for the Socceroos during two friendlies against Ecuador in March.

“We’d love him to play for Burundi but he holds the key – he might or might not come play for us,” Burundi FA president Alexandre Muyenge told BBC Sport Africa.

“He has Australian citizenship, but his parents are from Burundi.

“The Burundi FA started tracking him when he was 14 years old and I got a chance to visit him in Adelaide. We spoke and I wished him well.”

A speedy winger and skillful dribbler with a powerful shot, Irankunda signed a long-term contract with Bayern on Tuesday which will begin on 1 July next year.

Burundi’s men are 142nd in the Fifa world rankings and have only qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations once, finishing bottom of their group in 2019.

However, Muyenge says the emergence of Irankunda shows the country has the potential to produce top players and improve their fortunes.

“Burundians – especially soccer lovers – were very happy to hear Nestory has been signed by Bayern Munich, a big club known all over the world,” he said.

“The youth in Burundi are inspired by him because it shows there’s talent [here].

“The only challenge that exists is how they can show this talent, how to develop this talent. But the youth are looking at him knowing anything is possible.”

Making the family proud

Nestory Irankunda in action for Adelaide United
Irankunda is known for his acrobatic goal celebrations

The Irankunda family, having fled conflict in Burundi, moved to Perth when Nestory was an infant before relocating to South Australia.

Irankunda joined Adelaide United aged 15 after being spotted playing for Adelaide Croatia Raiders by United’s head of youth football Airton Andrioli.

He made his A-League debut in January last year, before turning 16, and now has nine goals in 39 games in all competitions for the club – making him the most prolific goalscorer under the age of 20 in the Australian league’s history.

Following his achievements in his adopted country he said joining Bayern was “a dream come true”.

“It’s obviously a great feeling,” Irankunda, who will be 18 on 9 February, said.

“I’m really excited to be able to get the opportunity I’ve been given to try something.

“I’ve worked hard to try and make my family proud. They’ve been showing their support throughout my time and it obviously means a lot to have that support.”

Bayern’s director of youth development Jochen Sauer said Irankunda had been on the club’s radar for some time.

“We’re convinced by his potential and that he will take the next steps with us,” he told the club website.

Adelaide United boss Carl Veart says Bayern, who have won 33 domestic league titles and the European Cup/Champions League six times, have “a great history of developing young players”.

“I know Nestory wants to hit the ground running when he gets there,” Veart added.

“This is what his next seven months here at Adelaide United is all about, getting him ready to make that next step.”

Is Irankunda the next Australian great?

Nestory Irankunda battles for the ball with Keita Kosugi of Japan (left) during an Under-17 Asian Cup match in June 2023
Irankunda represented Australia at the Under-17 Asian Cup in June

Given Irankunda has already been on the bench for Australia at senior international level, Burundi may face an uphill battle to persuade the teenager to switch allegiance.

However, he was omitted from the squad for upcoming Fifa World Cup 2026 qualifiers and national coach Graham Arnold is cautious over the future of a player touted as one of the country’s most exciting ever prospects.

Asked by reporters if Irankunda could one day reach the same levels as Socceroos greats Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill, Arnold replied: “It’s way too early to speak about that.

“It’s a pathway that Nestory needs to go on and it’s a tough pathway.

“But he’s going to a fantastic club in Bayern Munich that really want to help and develop kids along the way.

“Nestory has great qualities, but at the same time it’s a pathway where he needs to believe in himself, he needs to work extremely hard, both on and off the field.”

Veart is also keen that not too much pressure is placed in Irankunda’s young shoulders.

“He’s an exciting young player and it’s important that we understand that he’s still quite a young player,” the 53-year-old said.

“Credit to him so far, that he’s dealing with a lot of that expectation that our supporters and everyone is demanding from him. But we’ve got to remember that he’s still 17.”

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