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Tony Popovic - Perth Glory

How Tony Popovic Has Learned From The Wanderers And Nailed It With Perth Glory

Perth Glory Head Coach Tony Popovic has managed his team nine points clear on top of the A-League ladder with only eight rounds remaining.

As a Sydney FC fan I know all too well the feeling the Glory faithful are experiencing. It’s a situation Graham Arnold placed Sydney FC in on multiple occasions in recent years. My friends who support Perth Glory are letting me know about their success too.

The doubters are saying in Popovic-Wanderers style that Perth will choke come Finals Series but let’s not forget the true measure of a champion team is where they stand at the conclusion of the regular season.

Mathematical possibilities aside, they are home and hosed. It’s not Tony Popovic’s style, nor was it Graham Arnold’s, to take their foot off their team’s throat amid this level of dominance.

Will Perth Glory Go All The Way?

The questions still to be answered are: Will they go all the way? Can a Popovic-managed team become Champions? Has the former Crystal Palace and Sydney FC Assistant Coach learned from his shortcomings at Western Sydney Wanderers?

I believe Perth Glory can and they will. Why?

I believe the club culture Football Federation Australia wanted at Western Sydney suited Popovic’s style of managing and even more so at that point in his coaching career.

Western Sydney Wanderers was founded in 2011 and quickly became a club of the community. A process including many community forums and community selection of its name and colours. A process I was intimately involved in; working at Football Federation Australia at the time.

The club was to have some players from the local area; a strong squad but without household names: star players without egos or their egos needed be left at the door. They weren’t going to have a squad that revolved around a single player. In the early days marquee player was a forbidden term.

Players needed to show up, work extremely hard, do what the manager requested, regardless of who they were.

This is where Tony Popovic’s management style was so crucial and an approach that led to much success in the A-League and Asian Champions League. Both achievements are the pinnacle for clubs in this region and more significant than the A-League’s three-week Finals Series.

After winning the 2014 Asian Champions League, Popovic was memorably quoted as saying: “We were called a small club yesterday. Today we are the biggest in Asia.”

In Wanderers’ first season, Popovic was named A-League Coach of the Year after finishing top of the league.

As the next few years elapsed for Tony Popovic at the Wanderers, the club’s rigid ethos didn’t allow his management style to evolve as quickly as it could.

I also felt for Josep Gombau walking into the Wanderers Head Coach role. After seeing Gombau’s coaching style first-hand in A-League All Stars camp, he was never going to suit the Wanderers ethos nor the squad left behind after a Popovic-led regime.

Fast forward a few years to 2018 and the day Popovic was announced as Perth Glory Head Coach for the 2018-19 A-League Season. I turned to those I talk football to regularly and said “My tip is Perth Glory to win this season.” There were a few raised eyebrows.

This opinion was based on a few things. Sydney had lost Graham Arnold to the Socceroos Head Coach role, the Kevin Muscat managed Melbourne Victory were destined to not be able to maintain their success from 2017-18 and the Newcastle Jets unable to maintain their trajectory in a second season under Ernie Merrick.

Popovic on the other hand was able to walk into a decent squad that only needed a few personnel tweaks and never reached their potential under Kenny Lowe. A squad he could easily mould to his style.

Coupled with signings of quality players with national team experience like Ivan Franjic, Chris Ikonomidis, Matthew Spiranovic and Jason Davidson meant Glory were always going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Popovic has obviously been given every thing he has required and the breathing space he needed from CEO Tony Pignata and the results are there to justify it.

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Brian Gibson is the Founder of Australian Football and former digital marketer at Football Federation Australia.