Popovic conjures fresh magic with Glory

Tony Popovic has performed wonders at Perth Glory this season.
Tony Popovic has performed wonders at Perth Glory this season.

Ever wondered what Tony Popovic's secret to success is?

According to his players, it's all in the detail.

Popovic made a name for himself as a hard-nosed defender during his playing days but, as a coach, is a mix of taskmaster and magician.

The 45-year-old was a somewhat unknown entity when he took charge of the Western Sydney Wanderers in their maiden 2012-13 season.

That squad was so hastily assembled that many experts feared they'd finish dead last - yet the Wanderers not only avoided the wooden spoon, but finished first to claim the A-League Premiers Plate.

In 2014, Popovic surpassed that feat by leading the Wanderers to Asian Champions League glory, triumphing over Saudi giants Al-Hilal in the final.

Now, Popovic is working his magic at Perth Glory, with the side six points clear on top of the table with six rounds remaining.

According to veteran Glory defender Dino Djulbic, Popovic's intense attention to detail has played a huge role in his success so far.

"We spend a lot of time watching videos and analysing our training or our games, and just the details of where we need to be," Djulbic says.

"The boss is not happy if we are one metre off - he wants us to be exactly where we need to be. It's about improving us as a player.

"It's like everyone wants to follow him. It's great. You can tell - we don't make many mistakes, especially in the back."

Socceroos defender Matthew Spiranovic spent two seasons under Popovic at the Wanderers, and jumped at the chance to rejoin his mentor in Perth.

Spiranovic says players thrive under Popovic's set-up.

"He demands high standards. Without a doubt you could say he's going to be harsh at times, but very fair," Spiranovic says.

"He always requires the utmost in terms of professionalism.

"One of his biggest strengths is his man management skills. That's been evident again this season. With the depth of our squad, he's able to keep everyone hungry and on their toes."

Goalkeeper Liam Reddy is well placed to pass judgement on coaching ability, given he has played for seven different A-League clubs.

He rates Popovic as the best manager of his career.

"He's definitely got the best out of me in terms of my performance, and also what it is to be professional off the field too," Reddy says.

"If you don't want to do it and you don't do it, you won't be here long.

"Every player has embraced that. That's why he is a good coach. That's why we're doing well this year."

Popovic cuts an intense figure in front of the TV cameras during press conferences, often bristling at questions that don't take his fancy.

The former Socceroo is just as serious on the training field, according to his players, with any hint of mediocrity immediately punished.

But off the field he lets his sense of humour sneak out.

And although Popovic is something of a taskmaster, he also wants his players to enjoy what they're doing.

"As much as there's pressure in football, he wants us to enjoy it, to embrace the challenges and it really is a pleasure going into training," Spiranovic says.

"You see amongst the boys there's always a smile on their faces."

Popovic feels great joy at seeing hard work on the training pitch rewarded with good on-field results. But another aspect that gives him great satisfaction is seeing the growth in individuals.

Popovic is something of a father figure in this respect.

"I always enjoy seeing players improve," Popovic says.

"That's something you take great satisfaction out of as coaches.

"And also seeing them evolve and improve as people. When you see that, the human side as well, it's very satisfying."

As for his high demands of people?

"You have to have standards, you have to have a good environment, and we strive for excellence every day," Popovic says.

"It's about wanting to be the best you can be every day.

"If we all want to do that, then we can make really special things possible."

Popovic doesn't shy away from failures either.

On paper, his short-lived stint at Turkish club Karabukspor was a disaster - and he's coached in three A-League grand finals for zero wins to date.

But Popovic believes he is a better coach for those experiences - and has a loyal group of players to help him break his A-League drought in 2019.

Australian Associated Press