Swindon Town's Massimo Luongo: A Star on the Rise
His club manager, Mark Cooper, thinks he’s Australia’s answer to David Beckham. His national team boss, Ange Postecoglou, thinks he has all the ability to play for the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona. Whatever the truth of the matter, Massimo Luongo’s stock has skyrocketed in the past month or so, thanks to a number of stellar displays in the Asian Cup which lifted his native Australia to their first continental title, picking up the MVP award for the tournament along the way. That voices in the game – from those familiar with Luongo, to those who can only covet his services – are praising the Sydney-born, Swindon-based midfielder is testament to his performances over the past month in Asia, but also the months and years previous to that in the West Country.
As such, this recent development in Luongo’s career will have come as no surprise to fans of his club side, Swindon Town. Since March 2013 – when he originally signed on loan for the Robins – Luongo has been a key part of the Robins’ midfield, helping Swindon over the line into the League One playoffs in his first two months at the Wiltshire club, before signing with the club fully on Deadline Day in Summer 2013.
Fast forward a season and a half later, to another Deadline Day, and Luongo was the talk of the transfer market, tipped to make a big money move to various clubs across the United Kingdom, Europe or even in Asia, with an unnamed Qatari club making a bid. Cardiff were rumoured to have made a £3.5m bid, with the likes of Dortmund and Sevilla also monitoring Luongo’s transfer situation; ultimately, though, Swindon held firm on keeping their midfield star, foregoing the potential profits of a potential big money move in a bid to bolster their promotion campaign from England’s third tier.
So just how has Luongo – a player called up to the World Cup squad in 2014 as a bid to look towards the future – made the jump from one of Australia’s bright young prospects to the real deal, in the space of just a few months?
A large part of the transition has to be put down to Swindon Town and their owner, Lee Power. Power played a vital role in bringing Luongo to the club, his original loan signing coming as a result of a link between Power and Luongo’s previous club, Tottenham Hotspur’s then-Under 21 Manager Tim Sherwood, but Power also played an important role in Luongo’s career even earlier, helping bring the young Australian to White Hart Lane.
His subsequent move to the County Ground has meant that he has been able to make the step into regular first team football, having not had much of a chance at Spurs – his only appearance for them coming as a substitute in a League Cup loss to Stoke. He has been a virtual ever-present when fit for Swindon, which has, in turn, meant he has had to learn to add consistency to his game. Consistency is a key aspect of the game for a young midfielder, who can only really start to demand game time when it’s certain he has the stamina, as well as the obvious raw abilities, to make winning the game more likely.
In this sense, while the start of last season began very well for Luongo, towards the halfway point of the campaign he looked notably tired, unable to affect games with the vigour with which he had done in the autumn months. This can be taken as a criticism, but in truth is more a reality of a young professional in his first full season; the talent was never in doubt, but it was clear that there was more to come from Luongo – as well as a number of his young teammates – which couldn’t perhaps be delivered thanks to the fatigue built up over a gruelling league season.
After some rest in the early spring, however, Luongo finished the season strongly, eventually earning the space in the Socceroos’ World Cup squad in Brazil. This was somewhat of a surprise, though not undeserved – more in the sense that Luongo had only ever appeared to be on Australian national team coach Ange Postecoglou’s radar since the beginning of the calendar year of 2014.
So a first full season of professional football was enough to get Luongo on Postecoglou and the Socceroos’ radar, and improve the Australian prospect’s consistency, so what of his second season?
Luongo has only gone on to bigger and better things since taking part in the World Cup last summer, playing an even bigger role in a better Swindon side – one which has been near the upper regions of the table since almost day one of the season – and becoming a starting player for his national side too. His season started almost perfectly with a goal on the opening day against Scunthorpe, and despite a lack of goalscoring form – he didn’t manage to register a second goal until December – Luongo’s stature has only risen, carrying his team forward excellently throughout the season, playing a leading role in Swindon’s push for Championship football next season.
The big headlines of recent weeks may have been made by Luongo with his national team – and, given that he scored twice, assisted four goals and achieved the tournament’s MVP award over the six game tournament, for good reason – but it’s clear that his rise to the darling of Australian football is no flash in the pan; instead, Luongo’s success has just been a story waiting to happen for some time now. Given that he’ll stay at Swindon for the rest of the season, there’ll be an onus on him to kick on and help the rest of his team to promotion come May. Where Luongo’s path will go then isn’t obvious – the world is, to use a cliché, his oyster – but his future is almost certainly going to be a bright one.