From Asian Cup hero to Ballon d’or nominee, it’s been a whirlwind 10 months for unassuming Australia midfielder Massimo Luongo – and the Queens Park Rangers recruit is still just at the foothills of a career which he hopes will elevate him to Europe’s top leagues.
For a player who never seriously considered football as a viable career path until his mid-teens, Luongo’s leap into the hearts and minds of Australian fans has been little short of astounding.
But on a gray autumn day in London, the euphoria of scoring in the decider in his hometown of Sydney to help Australia seal a 2-1 victory over South Korea in January seems a world away.
Life in the Championship at his new club, after an off-season move from third tier Swindon Town, has come with its challenges and he isn’t sure of a starting spot going into Sunday’s (AEDT) clash against Milton Keynes Dons at Loftus Road.
But the merest mention of the Asian Cup and Luongo lights up.
“Looking back it feels like that tournament really started my football career, from that first game against Kuwait,” he said. “Ange Postecoglou decided to give me a go and it took on its own momentum from there.
“That tournament has really put my name out there; it was a breakout moment for me.
“Things went my way and I took it in my stride. I don’t think anybody expected that to happen ... least of all me.
“I saw it as an experience building scheme initially but I got a lot more than I’d really bargained for.”
The kid with the Italian father and Indonesian mother – Luongo has many thousands of Indonesian followers on Twitter - was a non-playing member of Australia’s 2014 Wold Cup squad in Brazil and barely known to a wider public before becoming the Postecoglou gamble which brought the house down.
It’s all a far cry from the backblocks of Sydney where, until coming under the guidance of ambitious coach turned UK-based scout David Magrone, Luongo was an ever-so-slightly chubby teenager who saw the game more as a beloved passion than a genuine career option.
Magrone took Luongo, who had escaped recognition through Australia's traditional talent pathways, and a team of aspiring rookies to Europe for trial games against the youth teams of Club Bruges, Groningen and VVV Venlo in 2009.
He was immediately singled out and offered trials at Ajax and Bruges.
But Magrone also had Tottenham lined up for his protege and the London club acted swiftly to snap him up.
He went on to make a single senior appearance and captain the Under-21s before making a permanent switch to League One Swindon two years back. He hasn’t looked back.
His appearance on a provisional list of nominations for the prestigious Ballon d’Or - the result of a vote from Australian great and FIFA panel member Harry Kewell – bewildered and slightly embarrassed Luongo, who was subsequently cut this week when the list was shaved to 23 names.
“It seemed a bit random and I initially thought it was somebody trying to be funny. I knew I had no chance of winning it but I can now say I've been on the Ballon d’Or list."
"It’s obviously do with how things went for me at the Asian Cup, and it’s a big honour.”
Ambition to play in the Premier League burns bright for Luongo – perferably with QPR – but he also dreams of testing his technical touches and vision on the continent one day.
“Being at QPR, there's a good possibility of going up, but I wouldn’t put it past me to get into any other top league somewhere in Europe at some stage," Luongo said. "A top Italian team or German team would really interest me as well. It would be a different challenge but a good one.”