Watching Tottenham’s youngsters challenge for the title last season, it wouldn’t have been surprising for Massimo Luongo to feel a sense of regret. After coming through the ranks with Harry Kane and Danny Rose, it was once his dream to play alongside them in the first team. Instead, the young Australia international was sold to Swindon in 2013, before joining QPR last year.
Although he was quickly moved on by Andre Villas-Boas, with just a single League Cup appearance to show for his time at Spurs, Luongo isn’t the sort of player to hold a grudge. “I think just the players in my position that were brought in under [Villas-Boas] and the old manager killed me a little bit,” he says. “But that’s normal. Then I went on loan for two or three months at Ipswich, and when I came back I was probably even further back than before.”
Given his reputation for developing young players, had Mauricio Pochettino been in charge at the time, Luongo may have been awarded his chance – something he admits he would have relished. “I wouldn’t say I’d change what I’m doing to go back and play under him. But everyone wants to play under big managers.”
This is perhaps the only time Luongo has looked back after leaving Spurs. In his first season at Swindon, which saw the Robins narrowly miss out on the League One play-offs, his promising performances were rewarded with a first international call-up in March 2014. With the World Cup just around the corner, it was perfect timing.
Lungo was included in the Socceroos’ 23-man squad for the tournament in Brazil, but watched from the bench as the team were eliminated from a tough group including the Netherlands, Chile and Spain. When his next opportunity to showcase his ability on the international stage arrived, Luongo made up for lost time. In 2015, he was named most valuable player at the Asian Cup after helping Australia win their first title and scoring against South Korea in the final.
“Winning the Asian Cup was massive,” he says. “But I didn’t even know there was a player of the tournament award at the end, so that was a little cherry on top. I was already buzzing at the time, and then they called my name out and I was like ‘what’s that for?’ So that was unreal.
“They literally said ‘Mass, can you come over here?’, and I didn’t know what I was going over for. I thought, ‘oh, I could be up for this’, and then boom. That was a sweet ending.”
It was a sweet ending that continued for several months. Thanks to his performances for the Socceroos, Luongo became an overnight celebrity Down Under. Swindon boss Mark Cooper even nicknamed him the Australian David Beckham, although the 24-year-old is keen to play down his former manager’s playful moniker. “It was more directed at being a pin-up boy for Australia because I had such a good Asian Cup and I was everywhere in Australia for six months.”
It wasn’t just in Australia where Luongo’s talent was recognised. His leading role in the Asian Cup win also resulted in a spot on the Ballon d’Or long list, alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. “It was mental,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what to think. It was just one of those things where I woke up in the morning and I got a tweet about it. That’s how I found out. I thought it was a joke, someone just tweeted me as a joke. But it was nice. It was recognition for the Asian Cup and it’s nice to get your name out there a little bit.”
After returning from the Asian Cup in January 2015 to finish another impressive season at Swindon, helping the club to fourth and being named in the League One team of the year, Luongo was snapped up by QPR. An old Spurs connection played a part – with Chris Ramsey then in charge at Loftus Road – but the manager was soon replaced. Further changes have seen Luongo play under four different coaches in just 18 months, an experience he admits has been challenging.
“It’s not nice to see any manager lose their job,” he says. “It’s very unsettling as a player as you’ve got to adapt to a new manager. Sometimes it can be refreshing and be a positive thing because it might not be working for you under the old manager, but it’s difficult. I haven’t had a problem adapting to the new managers, but it can give you a little doubt in your head of are you going to play or not.”
With fan favourite Ian Holloway recently appointed at QPR, Luongo is now focused on helping the club back to the Premier League. It’s an ambition he concedes may take some time to fulfil. “You can’t put a time limit on it. It’s for us to work hard and get there. It’s definitely possible, we’re not far off the play-offs [but] I think at the moment we’re looking a bit too far from automatic because the tip-top teams are doing so well. Say it doesn’t work out this season, and we keep one manager and he does what he wants to do, then we could look like a proper force.”
Luongo also has one eye on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, with Australia in a much stronger position to keep their place at the tournament since switching from Oceania to the Asian Football Confederation a decade ago. “It has made it more realistic,” says Luongo of Australia’s new qualifying route. “So when we do well we’re not facing the big boss at the end of the game, the South American side, which was always difficult. It does make us look forward to qualifying because it’s within our reach. It’s a long process and it makes it even longer and tougher, but the games are there to be won.”
Although Australia’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup was unsuccessful, Luongo hopes one day the tournament will head Down Under. “It’d be unreal. Just hosting the Asian Cup was massive. Football wasn’t the biggest sport but after hosting the Asian Cup it’s gone right up there. Everyone’s wanting to getting involved. So imagine what a World Cup would do – the biggest teams in the world. I think it would push soccer to being one of the biggest sports.”
Massimo Luongo wears the new Atomic/Barracuda New Balance Football Visaro boots. To find out more about New Balance Football go to newbalance.com/football or follow @NBFootball on Twitter and Instagram, @nbfootballofficial on Facebook and NB.Football on Snapchat.