Popovic to take reins of Victory

Former Western Sydney Wanderers and Perth Glory boss Tony Popovic has been named as Melbourne Victory’s new Head Coach for the 2021-22 season.

In a rapid turnaround, Victory announced the appointment of the 47-year-old in an email to members on Thursday afternoon, just five days after the club axed Grant Brebner following a 7-0 thumping at the hands of Melbourne City. 

A former premiership-winning coach with both the Wanderers and Glory, as well as a winner of the Asian Champions League with the former, Popovic joins the fallen A-League giants on a three-year deal which will commence in July. He will become the third-full time and fifth-overall coach to be employed by Victory since Kevin Muscat departed the club at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Interim coach Steve Kean, who on Tuesday signalled an understanding that he would move on at the end of the season, will remain in charge for the club’s remaining ten games of 2020-21. 

“I am excited to announce Tony’s appointment as Head Coach of Melbourne Victory,” Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro said. 

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“He is a proven Head Coach who is strong and clear in his approach and we are confident that he is the right man to take our football program forward. 

“Tony will formally takeover as A-League Head Coach of Melbourne Victory in July and will oversee the entire A-League program.”

Popovic had been a free agent since late February, when he was axed by Greek Super League 2 side Xanthi FC despite guiding them to three wins in their last four matches and steering them into the fifth position on the table – just four points behind then-league leaders Ergotelis.

“I am very proud and excited to be appointed Head Coach of Melbourne Victory starting next season,” Popovic said.

“I have watched the club from afar as a player and a coach. Melbourne Victory is a proud club renowned throughout the A-League for its strong culture and its passionate member and fan base.

“I’m really looking forward to being part of it and being appointed Head Coach is a great honour for me. I know there’s plenty of hard work ahead as we build towards the next phase of success at the Club.

“I look forward to meeting everyone soon and I can’t wait to get started.”

Victory has been the subject of criticism, particularly from their own fans, over the opaqueness which surrounds how the club manages its A-League department, and Di Pietro made a point to address any potential concerns surrounding the number of cooks in the Victory kitchen in his remarks. 

“As is always the way at Melbourne Victory, Tony as Head Coach will be responsible for the entire A-League program overseeing support staff, recruitment, list management and our A-League playing style and performance,” Di Pietro said in the email to members – which differed from the release put out to the wider public by the club. 

The statement is a particularly salient one, offering a hint that Victory’s higher-ups have recognised the dour state it finds itself in and has surrendered the keys to its castle in an attempt to escape their current predicament. Di Pietro has flagged that a thorough review into the football department is underway at AAMI Park in the face of their catostrophic season, something that their new coach will now ostensibly play a key role in.

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Popovic undoubtedly represents the kind of no-nonsense, clear thinking and pragmatic force that the club – currently bottom of the A-League table and odds on to remain there in 2020-21 – needs to engineer a rapid turnaround in their fortunes, which have been on a consistent, downward trend even amidst a Championship in 2017-18. 

Taking Victory’s declarations at their word surrounding recruitment and style, its new gaffer, arguably pound-for-pound the most successful coach in A-League history, can be expected take a broom to the club’s locker and back rooms when he takes formal control and begins the process of introducing his highly successful culture. 

He will also, however, likely go about this task on the field using a style of football that contrasts with Victory’s stated tradition of free-flowing, attacking and entertaining football – delivering results instead through an at times impenetrable defence, moves on the counter supplemented and the individual brilliance of high-profile attackers.

Nonetheless, with the four-time A-League champions seemingly finding ways to fall even further than rock-bottom on numerous occasions this campaign, this was a concession they feel they likely had to make.

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