You’re only as good as your last game, is a term every sportsperson should be aware of. It is crucial to remember as often while wallowing in self satisfaction and the plaudits of others for an outstanding performance you come crashing back down to earth with a mediocre one. Twenty-two year old Socceroo Massimo Luongo will be well aware of this leading into Australia’s next Asian Cup game against Oman tomorrow.
Luongo who must shoulder some of the blame for Australia falling a goal behind, after not tracking his man in a passage of play that lead to a corner and Kuwait’s opening goal bounced back and put in his best performance yet in the green and gold. Credit must go to Ange Postecoglou for realising that Luongo was ready to start in such a key game for Australia, when many pundits around the country questioned his selection.
It has been interesting to read some of the comments relating to Luongo’s performance over the past few days. Many are predicting that it will not be long before he leaves division one Swindon Town and is plying his trade in a higher division; that is a very realistic proposition, but if he helps Swindon gain promotion to the Championship he may well opt to stay where he is and where he is guaranteed first team football. He is after all only twenty-two years old.
One comment, was ‘it is a shame he is playing for such a low ranked club.’ This shows just how naive many Australian fans are about the game of football and also how they have bought into a lot of the propaganda surrounding the A-League. We have heard it said that the A-League is on a par with the second tier Championship in England; It is not and will take at least another ten years to be even close. In fact most Second division teams in Britain, – two levels below the Championship – would have no trouble disposing of the A-League teams. Do not be fooled by the performances of European sides coming out for pre-season games. These are goodwill affairs and merely a public relations execs and the chance to get some minutes in their players during pre-season. These teams would rarely be performing at more than 50-60% of their normal levels.
The other issue this comment raises is this blind belief that Australian players should all sign for Premier League clubs and once there they will gain a first team place. Luongo like many aspiring footballers went to England for trials and in 2011 impressed Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur enough for them to sign him. Note he did not play in the A-League and despite heading to the UK aged 17 there have been no pundits saying he went across to early; which makes a mockery of how often we hear that comment and how players must play in the A-League to have a hope of making it overseas.
Not surprisingly for one so young amongst big name international Luongo struggled to gain a spot in the first team. He was loaned out first to Championship side Ipswich Town and then to Division One Swindon Town. Here he was thrown straight into the first team and so well did he perform in the coming weeks playing alongside another Spurs loanee Alex Pritchard that Swindon signed him on a season long loan, and then permanently. His performances this season are a major contributing factor to Swindon Town sitting in the top echelons of Division One; how much they miss him will be clear when they play Coventry tonight.
Too many Australian players believe that signing for a big club is the be-all and end-all. It is so far from the truth. Getting game time is the key, gaining experience playing in the lower divisions is the perfect apprenticeship for making it in the top echelons of football, as Tim Cahill and Lucas Neill about how crucial their time was at Millwall before they moved to Everton and Blackburn Rovers.
As Luongo’s former team mate Alex Pritchard said after returning to Tottenham, “”it was great for me to be playing first team football at Swindon this season, I needed to get out and play competitively and I loved every minute of it.” The life of a professional footballer is a relatively short one, and it is crucial that you play as much first team football as you can. So there is no shame to drop down a division or two to gain that experience, and as Luongo has shown, by playing regularly you put yourself in with a shout of being selected for the national team, and then if you manage to back up performance’s like his against Kuwait you put yourself in with a chance of climbing up the league’s and playing for a top flight club.
There are plenty of talented Australian players currently in Europe, but too many are with clubs where they are not playing first team football. The key is playing, and playing consistently. Luongo has shown he can do that at Swindon Town under the guidance of Manager Mark Cooper, now he must do it at international level and his biggest test will come against Oman.
(As a Swindon Town fan and a Socceroos supporter I hope he can).