Popovic would ‘jump at return’ to Turkey’s coaching cauldron

Tony Popovic “would jump at the chance to return to Turkey tomorrow” despite his ill-fated Super Lig assignment with battling Karabukspor ending in the sack after just 11 games in charge.

The 44-year-old, who quit on the eve of the A-League season for what became a European misadventure, is back in Australia assessing his future after a prolonged interlude in Croatia following his December axing.

And Zeljko Kalac, the former Wanderers assistant who rode shot-gun with him in Turkey, claims Popovic has not been soured by his Turkish experience.

“Poppa is back in Sydney now and is waiting for the right opportunity to come along - if that was theoretically in Turkey then both Poppa and myself would absolutely jump at it,” Kalac said.


“It was overall a good experience, other than how it panned out in the end.

“And a lot of that was based on the political turmoil within the club (with the entire board standing down less than two months after Popovic took charge).

“It wasn’t to do with our work, which was very good. Poppa made some important, positive changes there. He had the team training and playing the right way but luck didn’t smile at all on us.

“There was also a huge political in-fight happening at the club and we were caught in the middle of that a bit.

“The way we left was disappointing and that was part and parcel of the situation there, which has worsened since our departure.

“Our intel told us prior to going they had never been late with a payment.

“It’s not a matter of us knowing better because we weren’t to know. It was impossible.”

Popovic, who was promised funds to sign players during the January transfer window, is now left, along with Kalac, chasing unpaid wages through FIFA.

He’s been linked with the soon-to-be-vacant Sydney FC job and still has his gaze trained overseas, with Kalac dubbing him the best coach Australia has ever produced - bar none.

“People will say I’m biased but in my view he’s top notch and I’ve worked under some pretty coaches (with AC Milan, Perugia, Leicester, Roda and Australia)," Kalac said.

“He’s got panels on anybody produced so far in Australia, and he’s also the youngest (Arnold is 54, Ange Postecoglou, 52, and Kevin Muscat, at 44 is a month older).

“You have to remember he started from scratch at a club which he won the Asian Champions League with a couple of years later.

“That’s probably one of the biggest sporting achievements in Australia. How does an Australian club with a $2.5 million budget do that?

“We used to joke about it because it was such an unbelievable feat.

“This season you had Arnie talking about winning the ACL, but you have to win a game to get out of the group first.

“People think it’s easier that what it is.

"I think Poppa will coach at the highest level ... but he has to get past some difficult perceptions in places like Europe.

“Over there the opinion is ‘you’re Australian, what do you know about football?’.

“We live in a bubble here and all we have is the A-League and that doesn’t count for much in Europe.

“Poppa will just keep challenging himself to coach at the very best level that he’s allowed to.”

Kalac, who expects to be reunited with Popovic again wherever his next post might take him, wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a shock Wanderers return, should Josep Gombau fail to convince owner Paul Lederer he’s the man to take the club forward beyond this season.

“I wouldn’t put anything beyond Poppa,” he said.

“Who knows?”

Asked about the Wanderers travails since his exit - they languish two points off the playoffs with two games remaining - Kalac said: “They are a team that was built to win the A-League, so it’s a bit disappointing.

“The way they are playing, and where they are on the ladder at the moment, it’s for them to sort their own problems out.

“With Poppa, wherever he goes, you never say never to anything.

“In his next job he’ll want to go in the pre-season, so he has the time to get the players he wants and to prepare them right. If you have that in place then you die by your own sword.

“That wasn’t the case in Turkey due to the timing of our arrival.

“It’s been nice for both of us to sit back and enjoy a break from football.

“But it’s enough now. We’ve had our fun, had our break and it’s time to get back into things again.”

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5 min read
Published 2 April 2018 at 3:24pm
By Dave Lewis