EPL

'A lot of talent there' – Hearts boss Neilson thrilled with signing of Socceroo Kuol

By Sports Desk January 12, 2023

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson accepts Socceroos forward Garang Kuol is not the "finished article" but is thrilled to land the 18-year-old on loan from Newcastle United.

The Edinburgh club confirmed the temporary signing – subject to international clearance – of Kuol from the Premier League side on Thursday, reportedly beating several Championship clubs to him.

Kuol impressed with two cameos for Australia at the 2022 World Cup, where the Socceroos reached the round of 16 for the second time.

In September, the teenager agreed a pre-contract deal to join Newcastle in January from A-League club Central Coast Mariners, with the Magpies eager to loan him out for first-team experience.

The Egypt-born talent only debuted for Central Coast in December 2021 and made just 22 first-team appearances – netting seven goals – before joining Newcastle.

"It's fantastic news that Garang has committed himself to Hearts for the next six months," Neilson said.

"It's no secret that we were extremely interested in him and he came up for a look around last week. He was impressed with what he saw and what we're trying to do here, which is pleasing.

"We're getting a player who is by no means the finished article but there is a lot of talent there – you don't get called up to and play in the World Cup for nothing.

"He'll offer us new options going forward as we look to continue our good form and continue to make progress in the league and in the Scottish Cup, and we're really looking forward to working with him."

Kuol joins fellow Australians Kye Rowles, Cammy Devlin and Nathaniel Atkinson at Hearts. All four were part of the Socceroos' World Cup squad.

"The gaffer also persuaded me to come here with the plan that he put to me for my development," Kuol said.

"Overall, the club has great ambitions and goals, and that was something I wanted to be involved in. I think it was a very good decision."

Hearts are third in the Scottish Premiership with 32 points from 20 games, 26 points behind leaders Celtic.

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    Replays have been abolished from the first round onwards from next season as part of a minimum six-year agreement between the Football Association and the Premier League.

    The matches have long been a part of FA Cup tradition – with the first replayed final taking place in 1875 – and have in some cases been highly lucrative for lower-league clubs.

    It has long been expected that the expansion of UEFA club competitions would lead to their abolition at least from the third-round stage, but Tranmere vice-chair Nicola Palios fears this move could be the thin end of the wedge.

    “The FA and the Premier League have reached an agreement to suit themselves further at the expense of the rest of the football pyramid,” Palios posted on X.

    “Bring on the regulator and make sure it has some teeth before the Premier League strangle the pyramid.

    “Seven hundred and twenty-nine teams compete in the FA Cup. Why is its format being dictated by the Premier League who represent circa three per cent of them? Why were EFL clubs not given a say? Why is the EPL even dictating whether replays are allowed in rounds they don’t participate in? Protest is needed!”

    Next season’s domestic calendar – including the changes to the FA Cup – have been approved by the FA’s Professional Game Board, which includes EFL representation.

    The EFL has not yet commented on the matter.

    The agreement also includes fifth-round ties reverting to a weekend slot, having been played in midweek for the last five seasons. The FA Cup final will also now be played on the penultimate weekend of the Premier League season.

    FA chief executive Mark Bullingham insists the move, which will mean up to an extra £33million for the pyramid, strengthens the FA Cup.

    Andy Holt, the chairman of Accrington, wrote on X: “Why would the hapless FA scrap early-round replays that can be lucrative to minnows? A chance to change their financial fortunes? Against EFL clubs? I expect nothing less of Masters and co Premier League buying the game into a format that suits their needs.”

    Niall Couper, the chief executive of the Fair Game football reform group, described the move as “short-sighted” and as “another nail in the coffin for the already crumbling football pyramid”.

    FA sources have challenged the notion that replays are major revenue earners for lower-league clubs. Of the 19 third and fourth-round replays in the last 10 years where an EFL side was away, 12 had an attendance of over 25,000. Only a very small percentage of first and second-round replays over the same period achieved attendances of over 7,000.

    Nevertheless they remained popular among fans, with 69.5 per cent of those taking part in a Football Supporters’ Association survey last summer believing they are an important part of the FA Cup. The FSA, which had been involved in talks with the FA over the FA Cup’s format, has not yet commented.

    Freeing up first and second-round replay dates would help to create room for any expansion of the EFL Trophy, which has been under discussion between the Premier League and the EFL. The former is keen to give top-flight clubs’ young stars more opportunities to play in competitive matches.

    However, with talks over a new financial settlement between the EFL and the Premier League stalled, it is unclear when – or even if – such an expansion would take place.

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    “What football needs is a collective approach to a properly thought-out global fixture calendar – not a fight for available dates,” PFA chief executive Maheta Molango said.

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    “The current unsustainable approach to the calendar needs to be seen as an issue for every club at every level if we want to continue to protect our domestic competitions.”

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    FA Cup replays have been abolished as part of a new agreement between the Football Association and the Premier League on the competition’s format and funding.

    Here the PA news agency looks at the issue in closer detail.

    What has happened?

    The FA has agreed to scrap all replays from the first round proper onwards. Replays had already been phased out from the fifth-round stage but will now be ditched completely. The format change will see all fifth-round ties, which have been played in midweek for the last five seasons, revert to weekends while ties in the fourth round, fifth round and quarter-finals will be played exclusively of Premier League ties.

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    Why has this happened?

    The primary driver has been the pressure placed on the domestic calendar by the expansion of UEFA’s club competitions from next season. The new format for the Champions League, for example, features an extra 64 matches next season compared to the current campaign, and spills into January for the first time, a month which had previously been the reserve of domestic football.

    But why scrap replays in the first and second rounds, where Premier League teams aren’t involved?

    FA sources say that decision has been taken for the sake of consistency in the competition, and to help EFL clubs and those lower down the pyramid resolve their own congestion issues. It is understood the EFL Trophy is another candidate for expansion as Premier League clubs look for further playing opportunities for their young stars, although with talks on a new financial settlement between the Premier League and the EFL having stalled, it is not clear when – or even if – that change will come to pass.

    FA sources have also challenged the idea that replays are major revenue earners for lower-league clubs. Of the 19 third and fourth-round replays in the last 10 years where an EFL side was away, 12 had an attendance of over 25,000. Only a very small percentage of first and second-round replays over the same period achieved attendances of over 7,000.

    What else has happened?

    The mid-season break has been scrapped to allow a mid-August start date for the new Premier League season, which should enable top-flight clubs to ensure all players can get a consecutive three-week break in the summer. The new schedule also allows for the late May Bank Holiday weekend to be ringfenced for the EFL play-offs.

    What has the reaction been?

    The Football Supporters’ Association has not yet issued any comment on the move, but its survey from last year showed continued strong support for replays, with 69.5 per cent of respondents believing they are an important part of the FA Cup.

    Nicola Palios, the vice-chair of League Two side Tranmere, said the FA and the Premier League had reached an agreement “to suit themselves at the expense of the rest of the football pyramid”, and said the new independent regulator would need the power to stop the Premier League “strangling” the lower leagues.

    FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said the changes would strengthen the FA Cup while his Premier League counterpart Richard Masters said the changes had been agreed “without compromising the excitement of knockout football”.

    The Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Maheta Molango said the move showed how decisions taken at FIFA and UEFA level had “a knock-on impact which affects clubs, and players, throughout the pyramid”.

    “What football needs is a collective approach to a properly thought-out global fixture calendar – not a fight for available dates,” Molango said.

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