Three weeks back I wrote of the ‘Popovic effect’. I must say, in all humility and modesty, how right did I get that? [Let's not mention what you wrote about Melbourne City - Editor]

Without making predictions around total wins, goals or table position, it did appear obvious to me that the new man would make some significant changes in the west. 

Tony Popovic has, in fact, done more than merely tweak a leaky defence and have his team playing cohesively early in the campaign. The 45-year-old has begun a reshape of culture, attitude and expectation in just a few short months at his new club. 

There is some sense of déjà vu to the unfolding story. Back in 2012, with a new franchise about to enter the A-League, Popovic was assigned the mammoth task of steering a new club towards the immediate success that the FFA and the people of Western Sydney expected.

Driving to work each day and listening to a sports based talkback program, I can still recall the trickle of information released via the club's official channels, as the squad began to take shape.  

With just months remaining the Wanderers had nothing near a full or polished squad, yet Popovic never panicked, believing that he had the acumen to pull together a group of men in a short space of time. The rest as they say is history and despite a slow start, the Western Sydney Wanderers slowly built momentum throughout the course of their 2012-13 debut season, in the end, claiming the Premier’s Plate.

There was no flash in the pan about the success either. Three subsequent grand final appearances reeked of the steely determination of the manager and only the failure to snare a championship blots the A-League copybook of Tony Popovic in Western Sydney. 

Many would suggest that the 2014 Asian Champions League triumph more than makes up for his failure to capture a domestic title. It was ground breaking, but something tells me that A-League success also burns deeply inside Popovic, after his experiences and disappointments in A-League grand finals.

In much the same way, the Sydney born Popovic arrived in Perth with a heck of a lot of work to be done. True to form, he rolled up his sleeves and set about fixing the ailments that had seen the Glory miss semi-final play in three of the previous five seasons and do no better than fifth on the ladder over that same period of time.

The two most recent seasons saw a total of 103 goals put through the Glory defence and the 15 losses in 2017-18 had the club finally making a move on Kenny Lowe. 

Behind closed doors, Popovic set about making the necessary changes and the results have been stunning, even at this early stage of the season. The swagger is there, the defensive lapses are less frequent and for the first time in many seasons, Perth Glory look definite semi-final contenders.    

Perth have made the kind of start to an A-League season that even their most passionate and loyal fans would have thought unlikely. The statistics are compelling. Four wins from five matches, a four point lead at the head of the ladder and eleven goals slotting expertly into the back of opposition nets.

Even more telling has been the form of Shane Lowry and Neil Kilkenny. Both solid A-League performers, yet the opening month of the season has seen them transformed as players under Popovic.

With Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson brought in to bomb up and down the flanks, Popovic appears to have nailed the ever difficult challenge of astute recruitment once again.

Chris Ikonomidis is another significant piece of evidence to argue that case, having already chalked up four goals. The 23-year-old from Cronulla in Sydney, impressed in his time with Western Sydney and Popovic looks to have put some early polish on a player seemingly destined to enjoy a long and successful Socceroo career.

The cumulative effect has been a confident and feisty Andy Keogh. The 32-year-old Irishman looks a far happier version of himself this season, with a more solid base in midfield allowing for better service to him up front. With four goals of his own, Keogh looks set for a bumper season and a potential shootout with Ikonomidis would do little harm to the team’s aspirations.

All this mind you, without the presence of Diego Castro who finally made a return against the Mariners on Sunday afternoon. With the Spaniard in full-cry, if he can find his way into the team, the Glory attack begins to look a little scary to opposition defences.

I knew Popovic would have an impact. He is far too professional and knowledgeable not to have seen from where the improvements would come in Perth’s game.

However, the speed with which he has been able to achieve it is remarkable and great for the entire competition. It is nice to have the Perth Glory getting back to somewhere near its former … glory.    

Categories: Opinion | A-League

perth glory, a-league, tony popovic

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