Being nominated for the Ballon d’Or while playing for Swindon in League One left Massimo Luongo, understandably, thinking it was a farce.
When the longlist for football’s most prestigious individual award was revealed in 2015, the Australian wasn’t the only one who thought his presence was rather strange.
However, it soon turned out that the long list of 59 players was legitimate, and Luongo had achieved it thanks to his exploits in the AFC Asian Cup with the Socceroos.
“I didn’t even know if it was real, I thought it was someone trying to be funny,” he said.
“It’s obviously a great honor, not many people take part, I can say that I am now on the Ballon d’Or list. I don’t know what to say about it…it’s a bit random.
Granted, he has no place on a list that includes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but his youth career saw the now 31-year-old alongside current Ballon d’Or contender Harry Kane.
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Both men joined Tottenham’s academy ahead of their respective loan spells, but it wasn’t really until the 2015 tournament that Luongo began to find his feet under Ange Postecoglou with his nation.
Having been named player of the tournament and securing a move to QPR, Luongo has been one of the players to watch in the Football League ever since, and he could now be hitting his peak.
Stays at Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesborough were followed by an arrival at his current home in Ipswich where things are going pretty well.
Only promoted to the Championship this season, the Tractor Boys are now pushing for a return to the top flight, and naturally most of the plaudits go to manager and former Manchester United assistant Kieran McKenna.
The Northern Irishman was happy to pass some of that on to Luongo, however, especially after the Sydney native was recalled to the Australian national team for the first time in four years.
“It’s great news and I think anyone who’s seen us play over the last nine months would certainly rightly say that,” McKenna said.
“His form has been fantastic and he has been a big part of the team after Christmas – a big part of the football club, really.
“He was composed, character-driven but with a real competitive edge and streak.
“It’s a huge sign that no matter how old you are, whether it’s on the good or bad side of 30, however you want to look at it, both (Luongo and his midfield partner Samy Morsy) are improving game by game, week by week, always learning, two good learners and two good football thinkers. They bring us a lot on and off the pitch.
And Luongo is loving life at Portman Road, as he told The Athletic: “With the coaching staff, the details are really good. If we make substitutions or change teams, everyone knows where they’re supposed to be. They “got the details right and they got the message across. I have been part of teams where this was done spontaneously. In modern football the level of detail is much higher, but our coaching team takes it to another level.”
He added: “We know we have done very well when we sit down. We aim for consistency and good performance. But the mentality of most of these players is that performance comes first – as long as that is there, we sleep well at night.
“I’ve been on teams where we were happy to concede and not have the ball if, in the end, we somehow got three points. It can be a great feeling, but is Is it possible to always be good at this? No. “When we say we want to improve, that doesn’t mean we have to be first (in the league). It’s about improving ourselves every day. “
In a full circle moment, Luongo’s first minutes for Australia in the 2020s will likely see him try to stop former teammate and now Bayern Munich superstar Kane, with the Socceroos heading to Wembley for a friendly.
Since the pair last played together for Spurs in 2013, a lot has changed, but both are now in a place where they feel their lifelong hard work is finally about to come to fruition. bear fruit.
England’s friendly against Australia takes place on Friday 13th and talkSPORT is bringing you live commentary.
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