Popovic’s signing a monumental moment for Perth Glory

With a stroke of the pen on Friday morning, Perth Glory just delivered the most decisive signing in their history.


New Perth Glory coach Tony Popovic Source: Getty Images

Whether or not Tony Popovic’s decision to join the club is the biggest coaching coup in A-League history is one question – but it is most certainly the most unlikely.

There was no surprise about either Ange Postecoglou going to Melbourne Victory or Graham Arnold going to Sydney FC. They were expected. This, however, most certainly wasn’t.

While the rumour has been floating around the industry for weeks, few bothered to put any credibility in it. Popovic? To a bottom four team? When both Sydney jobs are available? While his European dreams are unfulfilled? With Asian clubs still circling?

It didn’t make any sense on paper. But it does say something about the man and his character. He is besotted by the prospect of a challenge. At Perth Glory, he gets it – and then some. The rewards, however, could be enormous.

Firstly, hats off to Tony Sage. Talk about delivering on a promise. It is not a stretch to say it puts Perth Glory in title contention for every year that Popovic remains in charge.

More importantly, this signing instantly injects the Glory back into relevance in the Western Australian sporting market. The timing couldn’t be better.

Perth is Australian football’s Atlantis; the lost city that once ruled the landscape. It is the city that accidentally gave birth to the A-League, proving that football had mainstream appeal beyond its existing space between the margins.
Today, every club in the competition has something of the Glory’s DNA in its soul. And yet, the club itself has somehow managed to recede into a shadow of its former self.

There have been moments of hope but they have proven all-too-fleeting. Excluding the New Zealand Knights, they are the only foundation club to have not won the A-League.

Mismanagement and bad decisions have conspired to prevent Perth finding its place back at the top. That’s a problem, because Perth’s citizenry has no interest in playing the underdog.

That’s best reflected in the AFL, where the state has produced two monolithic clubs. In the NBL, the Wildcats are a league byword for dominance. The Perth Scorchers have one thing on their minds.

That’s what once worked so well about Glory. In the 1990’s, they played the most lavish, enterprising attacking football, all whilst putting a sledgehammer through the “eastern seaboard” every other week. They were genuinely loved because of it. Their identity didn’t need a hashtag or pamphlet.

Back then, Glory didn’t aim to think big, they just did it. So stung were they by the upstarts from Wollongong that they promptly went and pursued the Wolves’ best two players, Matt Horsley and Scott Chipperfield. It was breathtakingly brazen.

The signing of Popovic feels like the first sign of unbridled ambition in almost two decades. It is a statement of pure intent, one that you just can’t relate in a single press release.

Furthermore, this is an acknowledgement from the club about a couple of things, most obviously, that the culture of the place needed to change.

Before anything else, utmost professionalism is what Popovic brings. He demands it from himself and his players. And he gets it. Those who fail to conform do not last.

That will spell the end of more than a few Glory players. The rest will either have to shape up or face the same conclusions.

It remains to be seen what type of football Popovic will play, whether it is the famously defensive style that brought the Western Sydney Wanderers to two grand finals in their first two years (and an Asian Champions League triumph) or the more expansive style that took them to a decider in 2016.

Either way, that doesn’t feel like the pressing issue at hand. He’ll figure it out in time. For now, the excitement that will come from this appointment is hard to contain – and nor should we try to. This club finally appears ready to live up to its name.

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4 min read
Published 11 May 2018 at 7:17pm
By Sebastian Hassett