#14 Alli v Luongo


assimo Luongo – the 2015 Asian Cup’s most valuable player (my snobbish side precludes me from using MVP). Not Shinji Kagawa; not Son Heung-min; not Omar Abdulrahman, but Massimo Luongo. ‘Massimo Luongo of Swindon Town’ was stated by some, but most Asian Cup commentators/journalists preferred to stress his participation in ‘the third tier of English football’, the implication being that this is an aberration. And I suppose they’re right. It is an aberration or at least an oddity. The most valuable player in the Asian Cup ought not to be playing for a team in the third tier of English football. He probably ought to be playing in the Premier League, shouldn’t he?

Before the Asian Cup Luongo received no national coverage (and, in fact, still doesn’t really) unlike another central midfield starlet of League One, Dele Alli. Before his £5 million move to Tottenham from MK Dons, Alli had received a considerable amount of national exposure, rarely out of national newspaper gossip columns with all of the Premier League heavyweights reportedly monitoring his progress, and even Bayern Munich. He was praised effusively on the Football League show on a frequent basis and was even the subject of an article which is still up on the League One section of BBC Sport: ‘MK Dons’ Dele Alli has the makings of next Steven Gerrard’. You might have thought that BBC Sport would have done a piece on Massimo Luongo in the same section given his performances in the Asian Cup, and Australia’s triumph, but they haven’t. Perhaps a piece is in the pipeline, I don’t know. Anyway, why was Alli coveted by Premiership clubs, whereas Luongo has only, thus far, attracted admiring glances in England from Championship clubs? 

Alli is 18; Luongo is 22. Alli is 6’2” plus and incredibly athletic, a bona fide thoroughbred; Luongo is 5’9” and is neither particularly stocky nor quick. Alli is box-to-box; Luongo lets the ball do the work. Alli has scored 12 league goals this season; Luongo – 3. Alli is the next Steven Gerrard; Luongo is still Luongo. Surely no contest then? Well, not quite. In technique and ball control Luongo has the edge, I think, as well as a stronger left foot. The more you watch him the more you appreciate him. He’s so assured in possession that you think one of his rare misplaced passes must be deliberate. To put it crudely, if Alli’s style mirrors Gerrard’s, Luongo’s mirrors that of Jack Wilshere. 

Of course the main reason that Alli is coveted more than Luongo is down to age. If Alli develops at the same rate between 18 and 22 as he did between 15 and 18 then he will probably surpass Luongo in technique. But age, I don’t think, is the only reason. Alli’s principal qualities are those that immediately catch the eye: power, pace, raking passes, tackling and goal scoring. Luongo’s aforementioned qualities are less striking, but no less important, arguably more so. Alli will make the League One PFA team of the year, and deservedly so. Luongo ought to be a shoo-in too, but had it not been for the Asian Cup thrusting him into the spotlight, I’m not too sure he would have. Indeed, some would probably rate Luke Freeman more highly (no doubt plenty of Bristol City fans). That would not happen in Germany, Spain or the Netherlands, but, in the land of Roy of the Rovers, it still does.

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