The Popovic Effect
Will Tony Popovic have the much-desired effect on the fortunes of Perth Glory?08 November 2018 | Stuart Thomas
Perth Glory sit equal top of the A-League ladder after three weeks of competition.
Whilst not the most stunning or mind boggling of achievements at this stage, there is no doubting what the men from the west have brought to the table thus far. It is as good as we have seen from them in quite a while.
In the five years prior to the birth of the A-League in 2005-06, Perth finished no worse than third on the ladder; lost two grand final deciders and claimed two championships. They were a powerhouse of the national soccer league in the last half-decade of that competitions, and there were no signs that things would be changing drastically in the near future.
Strangely, when the domestic game was rebranded as the A-League, Perth’s fortunes nose-dived almost immediately.
Finals play was elusive in those early years of the streamlined national competition and the Glory managed no more than eight wins in each of their first four seasons.
2009-10 suggested change, with a long waited appearance in finals play. Never a real chance for the title, the Glory were bundled out by the Wellington Phoenix on penalties. However, the taste of success was not parlayed into anything substantial and the following season was horrendous, with just five wins from 30 matches.
Only the now defunct North Queensland Fury finished below them on the table and even Robbie Fowler wasn’t enough to turn Perth’s fortunes.
There were some better days ahead, mostly off the back of the prolific goal scoring of Shane Smeltz. The highlight of Perth’s existence in the A-League became the title run of 2011-12, where they fell to the Brisbane Roar at the final hurdle.
With Scotsman Ian Ferguson at the helm, things finally clicked for Glory and it took a machine to bring them down. Ange Postecoglou had built an empire in Brisbane and the Roar were in the midst of a trio of championships across four seasons.
From that point on, the Glory have been nothing more than mid table finals aspirants; lacking the polish and defensive capabilities to challenge the top teams in the league. The clubs average finishing position on the table since that time is a lowly 7th, despite a couple of cameo appearances in finals in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Management has been an issue. When Perth sacked Ferguson in early 2013, Alastair Edwards was appointed to the position on an interim basis. He successfully navigated the team to the finals, albeit in 6th place and was given permanency soon after.
Sadly, things went south quickly after fall outs with senior players led to the termination of his contract in December of 2013 and another interim arrangement was installed with Kenny Lowe at the helm. That too became a permanent arrangement, yet despite all the gesticulation, passion and enthusiasm, Lowe never really moulded a team capable of claiming silverware.
Five years and 141 games later, it was over for Lowe. Enter Tony Popovic.
From the moment the Western Sydney Wanderers was given life by the FFA and a frantic build took place to have the team ready for play, the choice of managers would be vital. In retrospect, a better choice could not have been made.
Popovic is a man with high expectations and big dreams. Softly spoken and cagey, he masterminded the instant success of Western Sydney and won the most unpredictable of Premier’s Plates in the red and blacks’ inaugural season.
Despite three times suffering defeat on grand final day, it was the fickle nature of one off matches that hurt the Wanderers rather than footballing inadequacies. Amidst it all, the now 45 year-old ex-Socceroo steered his team to the 2014 Asian Cup title, and probably, the greatest historical achievement of any Australian club team.
Now Popovic sets about the task of morphing Perth into a championship contender and the early signs are that his message and methods have already had an impact. Even without Diego Castro due to injury, Perth have started well, with two wins and a draw to start the season.
Popovic has already added starch, discipline and resilience into the Glory defence; the undoubted Achilles heel of the club during the Lowe years. It is no coincidence that Ivan Franjic was lured to the west by the boss in an obvious attempt to remedy the defensive limitations, yet as with his initial Wanderers squad, there is something else about this team.
Chris Ikonomidis, Neil Kilkenny and Jason Davidson, much like Popovic himself, all appear men with something to prove. Throw in his old friend Brendan Santalab and the recently wandering Fabio Ferreira and the squad reeks of a collection of men slightly lost in recent times; now looking for some redemption and success under the watchful eye of a man they all respect.
It is a dangerous equation for other teams. An excellent manager, highly motivated and talented players, and a relatively low base from which to begin.
Within weeks the expectations have grown and the Perth fans are getting exactly for what they had hoped.
Barring his rather curious adventure to Turkey, Perth’s improvement is just another example of Popovic implementing his core beliefs and values to a team; thus creating the Popovic effect.
The only question that remains is just how far they can go.
perth glory, tony popovic, a-league