To all parents out there, you never know who that unassuming junior footballer with the muddy boots plonked in your back seat could turn out to be.
Just ask Elia Santoro.
A decade or so ago the junior soccer convenor and world-game fanatic would regularly ferry her son around Sydney’s junior football scene.
As a favour, she’d often help out other parents, helping to drive their kids to and from games and training.
One such woman was Ira Luongo.
The Indonesian-born Ira had a son playing for Sydney Olympic and later APIA called Massimo.
Ira often caught cabs to help transport her two sons around, and with Massimo’s brother in the same team as Elia’s son, the families formed a bond during the type of parent shuttles we see each weekend up and down the country.
“I used to take them down to Mascot in my car… their parents were spending big money just on taxis to get their kids around,” Elia told www.socceroos.com.au
“I’d often be waiting with them [the Luongo boys] and my son till their parents got there because I didn’t want to leave them on their own."
Elia would watch games. Her keen eye for quality players meant one thing: she knew Massimo destined for much bigger things.
“His brother was a good player back then. He had height and the ability but Massimo from very, very young, and I’d watch him, he always had that little special something," she recalls.
“You couldn’t put your finger on it, but you knew the kid had ‘it’.
“Realistically though, the coaching he was getting wasn’t proper coaching.
“Under the right coach I knew he’d go far. He was a special talent. You just had to hone it.
“And did you know he trialled at Sydney FC youth team and he got turned down by them because they thought he wasn’t good enough and too young?”
A few years later and Massimo had made it to Tottenham Hotspurs academy team by 2011.
He was training with a certain Gareth Bale and on the fringes of first team football before his loan move (later made permanent) to League One outfit Swindon Town.
It was then I met Luongo through Elia at a Darling Harbour restaurant. A thin, polite, cockney sounding teen shyly answered some of my questions and I wrote about him for an online football site.
“And that night I told you he’d become one of our most well-known Socceroos. I said that to you, given half the chance, he could do it,” retells a proud Elia.
“That’s why I wanted you to do a story on him. No-one at that stage had even heard of him. Everyone was touting his older brother but I said it was the younger one – he has something you can’t explain. You can’t teach that.”
Since then, it’s all fallen into place for the Sydney boy – as we all now know.
“For me it’s everything to see these kids progress. They are the future. I’m just so sorry many of them go unnoticed in our talent system. It’s a crying shame. You don’t want to see that type of talent go to waste," adds Elia, a passionate fan of football and Hyundai A-League club Sydney FC.
Elia was at Stadium Australia on January 31, 2015. And Luongo’s mother was close by.
“I think I must’ve broken the damn seat when he scored! With all my heart I was absolutely thrilled.
“And his mother was behind me and I could hear her tears rolling down her face and she was crying. She was screaming out. She was beyond words.
“Absolute pride to see her son in the green and gold. As a parent I understand that. It’s a beautiful feeling."
It was Luongo's superb opening goal in the Asian Cup final that laid the platform for Australia's historic victory in extra time 2-1. The 22-year-old was voted Most Valuable Player of the tournament to end a dream month back home.
He's now a virtual certain starter as the Green and Gold head towards their next goal: qualifying for the World Cup in Russia 2018.
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