Socceroos and Ipswich Town midfielder Massimo Luongo is ecstatic to be back in the green and gold after a four-year absence, but admits he often doubted he would receive another call up.
The Sydney-born midfielder has started in all eleven games for EFL Championship side Ipswich Town, helping The Blues climb to the automatic promotion spots of the ladder with 28 points accrued.
Australian head coach Graham Arnold has rewarded the 31-year old’s efforts with a spot to the Australian squad that will take on England at Wembley Stadium and New Zealand in Brentford in coming days.
For Luongo, it marks the first international selection since his last, being invited in 2019 to take on Nepal in a World Cup qualifier, which he would ultimately withdraw from after suffering an injury.
The 2015 AFC Asian Cup Most Valuable Player recipient there were internal doubts of every making the national squad again, after spending so much time away:
“I’ve never really got my hopes up and thought it was ever a thing again,” Luongo said.
“For a long time probably no, I’m getting on now, getting a bit older, maybe there’s a new pathway the manager wants to take, or bleed in some younger players,” he added.
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According to the man himself, it’s only been thanks to the recent run of successful form the player has been following his short-term contract signing with Ipswich, that he’s allowed himself to think about making the Australian squad once more:
“Only since the success at Ipswich, suddenly it’s like, what do you think? I’m asking a few questions, have I done enough? Is there a chance?,” he admits.
“I’ve only been thinking about it for the past year, that maybe there’s a chance. But I’m buzzing now,” Luongo added.
The four years since being away from the national squad has been a tough time for Luongo, with multiple injuries, as well as a couple unsuccessful spells with Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesborough seeing him miss out on last year’s FIFA World Cup and any preceding national squads:
“My injury record wasn’t too great, every time there was a camp I picked up a little niggle, then COVID happened, I took almost a season out due to one injury, which I think probably killed me a bit,” he stated.
“It wasn’t a good period mentally, so I wouldn’t expect anything, I wouldn’t expect to be called up after a little period like that.
“I know how much the manager values minutes and playing, so even when I was playing, I probably needed a bit more time.
“It was good for me, to focus on my club, focus on playing and sort of get back to a decent level”.
Changes have been made to the Australian camp since the last time the midfielder made the squad; not only has the manager changed, but an abundance of younger players and an improved set up the clearest deviations.
Efforts have been made the change the atmosphere around the Australian inner sanctum, efforts that have proven to be successful looking at recent on-field results:
“There’s a lot of younger players, there’s a lot of familiar staff around, but I’d say there’s a lot more backing, from a far coming in I’d say the setups gone up a bit, there’s no corners cut, everything is covered,” he said.
“Things you wouldn’t even think of are covered, more staff, more beds in the physio, food, everything has been covered.
“They’re trying to create an atmosphere that’s as top level as you can get”.
Luongo’s former Australian manager, Ange Postecoglou has been a revelation in recent seasons, becoming the first Australian to manage an English Premier League side.
For Luongo, Ange will leave an everlasting legacy for all Australians, no matter if his time at Tottenham is seen as a success or failure in years to come:
“He’s (Postecoglou) has already blown expectations out of the water, but I’ve always said whether he does well or not, I always thought he’d leave an impression,” Luongo said.
“Whether he gets success at Tottenham or not, everyone will remember Ange there and he’ll definitely leave a massive impression at the club,” he added.
The level of commitment and determination from Luongo to fight his way from injury and get back into the Australian national squad is one that should be applauded.
Upcoming international games against Gareth Southgate’s England side and the Darren Bazeley-coached All Whites side this month mark the first opportunities for Luongo to see international minutes for the first time since 2019.
Australia takes on England at the Wembley Stadium this Saturday morning at 5:15AM ACDT, and New Zealand on October 18 with a 5:15AM ACDT kick-off.
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