THIS week a man who couldn’t get a game in the Conference last season and a Sydneysider who became a stranger in his own country both made their international debuts – and Swindon Town can take great credit.
Yaser Kasim turned out for Iraq in their Asian Cup qualifier against China, while Massimo Luongo came off the bench in Australia’s friendly with Ecuador in London, as a year of hard work paid the highest dividends possible.
Twelve months ago Kasim, unwanted by Brighton and struggling to make an impact with Luton, played for Town in a trial match against Bristol Rovers. The Robins manager at the time, Kevin MacDonald, was impressed but not enough to immediately offer the former Spurs man a deal.
An hour’s drive down the M4, Luongo was stagnating in Tottenham’s reserves – his pathway to the first team blocked by a landslide of imports. Within a month he’d signed for Swindon on loan and the rest, as they say, is history.
While detractors will forever criticise the methods employed at the County Ground under the supervision of Lee Power and Mark Cooper - rightly so, in some cases – it would be foolhardy to suggest the club did not have a major part to play in the development of these two players, who have gone from outcasts to internationals in double quick time.
The fact that Luongo is an almost totally unknown quantity in Australia qualifies this assertion. Don’t believe me? Well, I too was surprised when an Aussie journalist got in touch last weekend to ask me to explain, in detail, exactly what the midfielder is all about.
He told me that Luongo was the surprise call-up in the squad, that most commentators and pundits had little knowledge of the 22-year-old as he had spent much of his embryonic career outside the spotlight of the top two tiers of English football and thousands of miles away from home. This was confirmed by the fact a major sports broadcaster in Oz captioned an interview he gave pre-match with the name Curtis Good – another unknown quantity plying his trade for Dundee United.
Without the exposure offered by Town, Luongo wouldn’t have got the chance he did on Wednesday night and the same applies for Kasim. But exposure alone does not guarantee recognition.
These two players enjoyed the highest honour of representing their country because their specific talents – an innate capacity for intricate, passing, patient football - were scouted by Swindon, honed by the Robins’ coaching staff and amplified by their teammates around them.
If what’s being undertaken at Swindon Town this season is as gruesomely dull and tactically naïve as some would make out, how on earth did Luongo and Kasim ever get considered for international duty?
Sure, it may ‘only’ have been for Iraq and Australia – but the former have qualified for their continent’s foremost competition, scheduled for next January, and the latter face Chile, Holland and Spain in the World Cup’s group of death in three months. Neither national coach would, given those timeframes, be giving either player gametime now unless they were serious considering them for future selection.
League position might not suggest that Swindon have been successful this season but the cases of Kasim and Luongo should illuminate the nay-sayers and doom-mongers that, actually, it’s not as simple as that.