Bolter - the term was coined for players such as this. From seemingly nowhere (okay League One) he has exploded onto the Australian footballing consciousness. Just 12 months ago fans might have asked Massimo who? That's Luongo the case. Barring injury it's impossible to imagine a Socceroos line-up without his name on the teamsheet. He comes in at No. 2 with a bullet in our Top 50 Aussies in the World.
2 MASSIMO LUONGO
Position Midfielder Club Queens Park Rangers
International Debut: vs Ecuador, 201
A little over a year ago Massimo Luongo was largely an unknown quantity to all but the most ardent of football fans.
Battling away in England’s League One, he had made his Socceroo debut against Ecuador in London in March, 2014. Coming on for the last 22 minutes, the midfielder showed some glimpses of his potential but that was all. He did not feature in the next game against South Africa, but was named in Australia’s 23-man squad for the World Cup. Luongo didn’t receive a minute of game time in Brazil, but the experience would do him wonders. He went back to Swindon Town and carved it up, breaking into the Socceroos first team and impressing against Belgium, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Japan.
Then came the Asian Cup and Luongo truly arrived. The 22-year-old marked a fantastic tournament with a wonderful goal in the final and the Most Valuable Player award. He quickly became the hottest property in Australian football. How things can change in the space of a year.
“This season’s been crazy,” Luongo admits to FourFourTwo. “There’s been the World Cup, Asian Cup, promotion push and playing at Wembley. It’s been massive. Three highlights I’ll remember for the rest of my career. It’s been hard to deal with but I’ve done it. Not many years will rival this one.”
Throw in getting married and a new move to Championship outfit Queens Park Rangers, and Luongo has barely had time to catch his breath. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the APIA Leichhardt junior though, as injury hampered the end of his campaign and promotion-chasing Swindon failed at the final hurdle.
Luongo was named in the PFA’s League One Team of the Year in a season that yielded six goals and nine assists in 40 appearances, but couldn’t stop Preston North End prevailing 4-0 over the Robins in the play-off final.
“It was disappointing,” Luongo says. “I thought Preston deserved it, maybe we didn’t prepare as well as they did. But it’s past now. It would have been nice to leave on such a high note and there’s nothing I wanted more than doing that for Swindon.
“But it didn’t happen. I can’t change it. It was a disappointing day for the club but Wembley was special. With the Asian Cup Final, I think there were more people, but it was just a different feel to it. I’ve never experienced it before, it did get to me a little bit in the beginning but we were down 3-0 before we knew it so it was hard to change that.”
Luongo’s Asian Cup heroics, combined with his excellent League One form, have made him a valuable commodity. Transfer speculation surrounded the playmaker but eventually a deal with QPR, who have just been relegated from the English Premier League, was struck in May. At Loftus Road, Luongo has been reunited with Chris Ramsey and Les Ferdinand, who both coached him during his time at Spurs. The Socceroo admits it was a relief to finally have his future sorted.
“There was loads of speculation and it can drive you up the wall a little bit when you’re starting to focus on the next game and at the time trying to get Swindon promoted,” he says.
“But it’s all cleared up now and I’m quite happy with the results. I’m very excited. In my time at Tottenham I was there with Chris Ramsay and Les Ferdinand, they were quite keen to bring me in and they showed the most eagerness to get me.
“I loved working with Chris back in the day. I was happy to listen to what they said and I liked the moves of the club.”
Luongo has played in the Championship before, spending part of the 2012/13 season on loan at Ipswich, and knows what to expect. QPR may have gone down from the Premier League last season but they remain an ambitious club and he is excited about what the future holds.
“I think first and foremost they want to build a club up from the bottom because I think in the past, people have used QPR as a stepping stone to get forward,” Luongo says. “They want to build it in the long run so people want to come there and achieve things at the club. The way they’re talking it’s not going to be easy but obviously I think promotion would be good because they’ve got bigger plans than that.”
A year ago Luongo was just another player with talent who had yet to come of age, another youngster with potential. Now the slightly-built midfielder is one of the key Socceroos, a rising star who has a growing reputation across the football world. He has become a marked man and the pressure has risen greatly. Luongo knows he no longer can fly under the radar and is determined to keep improving and developing.
“First of all I have to stay fit and I get better with the more games I play,” he says. “I just need to keep doing my best. Training is a big thing – I can’t waste any training sessions. In League One you can get away with mistakes, but you go up a league and it gets tougher – if you make mistakes the other team will punish you.
“I’ve got to work hard. I’ve got my move but it’s not going to slow down for me, I’ve got to keep pushing and keep trying to do more.”
HE SAID: “Winning player of the tournament was a big one for me because I don’t think a lot of people agreed with me starting in the first game and there were a few doubters. It silenced a few people. It gives me a lot of confidence going into future tournaments and the rest of my career.”
THEY SAID: “He’s the pin-up boy of Australian football now and I know his peers in the Australian team think highly of him, and that’s the biggest accolade you can get as a footballer. He’s the David Beckham of Australia now.” Swindon Town manager Mark Coopercomments