There can’t be a better judge to decide what the team need in central defence than Popovic, who represented Australia as a centre-back from 1995 to 2006, and he is giving Aspropotamitis every opportunity to shine during pre-season.
Aspropotamitis made his A-League debut for the Wanderers in 2014-2015 and ended up playing eight games. He played another five last season but now he appears to be pushing hard to become a regular starter.
The 20-year-old has partnered Wanderers captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley in both of the team’s FFA Cup games, a 3-2 win over Wellington Phoenix in the round of 32 and last Tuesday’s 5-1 win over Edgeworth Eagles in the round of 16.
Considering Wanderers have five centre-backs on their books at the moment, with Brendan Hamill, Aritz Borda and Robbie Cornthwaite being the others, the fact Aspropotamitis is getting so much game-time can only be a reflection of his potential and how well he is training and playing.
“Yeah, look, it’s been good to contribute to the team’s first two wins in the cup and to be in the quarter-finals so far,” Aspropotamitis told The World Game.
“But I know in myself that I’ve got to keep improving and getting better every day and that as long as I do that then I’ll give myself every chance of playing and everything else will take care of itself.”
Aspropotamitis said that as well as appearing in the FFA Cup games he had played some part in all of the club’s pre-season trial matches.
“In most of the friendlies all of the boys are getting 45 minutes each, or 60 minutes, depending on where you’re at with your fitness in the pre-season,” he said. “I’ve played in every game so far and really enjoyed it.”
Aspropotamitis said the advice he got from a former centre-back in Popovic, as well as Wanderers assistant coach Hayden Foxe, another former centre-back, was invaluable.
“’Popa’ is always giving me little bits of advice here and there about body position and things like that,” he said.
“Popa and Hayden Foxe have been a great help to me, along with the senior players, Nikolai, Robbie Cornthwaite and our new centre-back, Aritz Borda. They’ve all been very good and it’s always good to learn off experienced players and guys who have been at the highest level.”
There has been growing speculation that Topor-Stanley won’t be at the club for much longer, even though he has another year left on his contract.
Recent reports have him being offered for transfer to rival A-League clubs as a means of reducing the number of centre-backs on the books of the Wanderers and freeing up a spot that could be used on recruiting a player in another position.
Popovic has been playing Hamill at left-back since the departure of Scott Jamieson to play in Sweden.
Aspropotamitis said it was not his business to get caught up in all of the speculation.
“If we were to lose Nikolai it would be a big loss,” Aspropotamitis said. “He’s a fantastic player and brilliant leader for the club and for as long as I’ve been at the club he’s always been there to support me and give me guidance about what I can do better.
“The way I look at it is that if anyone moves on or if anyone comes in it doesn‘t change the way I approach things, it doesn’t change the way I approach training or games.
“I can’t control any of that stuff, I can’t control what the club is bringing in or taking out, all I can do is control what I can control and the rest will take care of itself.
“I’ve just got to make sure I’m well prepared to take any opportunity that might come my way this season.”
Aspropotamitis said there was a very positive feeling at the club about the season ahead.
“It’s going really well, we’re working really hard at the moment,” he said.
“The pre-season has been really tough and it’s only going to get tougher, especially under Popa and the coaching staff, so as a squad we’re really fit at the moment and barring one or two injuries everyone’s raring to go, which is great for competition and keeps everyone on their toes.”