Words by Tom Danicek
It’s probably fair to say every outsider had a good laugh when the longlist for this year’s Ballon d’Or was released, featuring one Massimo Luongo. And on the face of it, as someone who‘d spent most of the calendar year in the third English division, the 23-year-old Australian arguably wasn’t worth it.
Yet, I dare to say we know better. The list was, above all, meant to be diverse; it was to formulate a message along the lines of “we see football as a global phenomenon, we are not narrow-minded”. And if you accept that particular perspective, you’ve got to understand why there was a legitimate case for Luongo’s remarkable story to be highlighted…
First of all, you need to consider the situation Australia had found themselves in before Luongo’s step up. Aside from the inexperienced back line, the position of attacking midfielder was by far their worst covered one at the World Cup – with the ageing Bresciano, insipid Bozanic and to the left inclining McKay somewhat interchanging to fill the void. And to the little satisfaction of anyone.
With this predicament in place, Luongo is a true godsend for the Socceroos, ticking all boxes with his wide passing range and non-existent tendency to hide. Described as “the finest footballer to have pulled on Swindon red in the 21st century” by Sam Morshead in our February feature, Luongo was hardly punching above his weight at the Asian Cup; rather finally showcasing his talent – and so some elevation on the club scene was a must, too.
Here, though, the complications began to arise. Luongo had started brightly in a higher division, being frequently rated as the smartest piece of QPR’s summer business. For four rounds out of the first six, fans at the We Are The Rangers Boys forum voted him into the top three QPR performers, usually highlighting his refreshing tidiness on the ball, while complaining only about his poor habit of bottling good opportunities in front of the net.
At the end of October, however, Luongo suddenly disappeared – and no one could really explain why. I personally asked Thom Gibbs, deputy digital sport editor at the Telegraph and QPR supporter, but even he seemed to struggle with delivering a clear-cut explanation.
Nevertheless, Thom cites reasons such as the temporary appointment of Neil Warnock after Chris Ramsey was sacked, the summer failure to let go of most Premier League regulars and the consequent overloading of the central areas. Also, Luongo started his QPR stint in the 4-2-3-1 double pivot (he now usually functions deeper even for Australia) to move higher up the pitch later on; suddenly looking a bit lightweight in a tightly marked position.
Luckily, with the recent arrival of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Mass Luongo seems to be getting back into the mix and he was even singled out by the manager as a star performer in his first full start since the change of management. The Socceroo got his first assist since August in that emphatic January win over Rotherham (fourth helper in total) and he will certainly be looking to cement his starting position throughout the rest of 2016.
Highlight of the Year: Pulling all the strings for Australia at the Asian Cup
A spectator in Brazil, a mastermind in Australia. Some six months from not being of any use at the World Cup, a star of the third English division was an absolute revelation at the Asian Cup even for most of the die-hard Socceroos followers. A revelation that almost decided the final game with a well-placed finish from outside the box after elegantly receiving a through ball from Trent Sainsbury.
Sometimes rather lazily tagged ‘lazy’, Luongo contributed to the more effective pressing scheme of Ange Postecoglou’s side and embodied an all-action attacking midfielder within it – being the most dangerous corner taker at the tournament and the joint leader in goals (4) as well as chances (15) created. There were times, really, when his incisive passing, set piece expertise, economical running around and tanned face almost made him look like an Australian Riquelme.
In the end, Massimo Luongo became the second youngest Most Valuable Player in Asian Cup history, right after Chinese Jia Xuquan who impressed ages ago, back in 1984.