ALM players, league can take inspiration from Socceroos – Popovic

Melbourne Victory boss Tony Popovic hopes that the exploits of the A-League Men (ALM) contingent in the Socceroos’ World Cup squad will serve as the catalyst for a new cohort of players – and the league itself – to go to the next level. 

The Socceroos stunned observers both at home and abroad by reaching the knockout stages at this year’s World Cup in Qatar, recording wins over Tunisia and Denmark before having their run end in the round of 16 at the hands of Lionel Messi’s Argentina. 

With such low expectations coming into the tournament, the unlikely march into the knockouts, which set a new Australian mark for wins and clean sheets at a men’s World Cup, kicked off a wave of Socceroo fever across Australia: crowds packing into live sites across the nation and millions tuning into games despite their unfriendly kickoff times. 

Returning to action this weekend after breaking for the tournament’s opening stages, the ALM will be seeking to supercharge its own efforts to rebuild crowds and ratings from their COVID-lows by tapping into this excitement, helped by the presence of key World Cup contributors such as Adelaide’s Craig Goodwin and Melbourne City’s Mat Leckie and Jamie Maclaren. 

Players, meanwhile, will already be turning their thoughts towards the next opportunity to represent their nation at a major tournament, an Asian Cup that is expected to take place in early 2024. 

“It should inspire all players,” said Popovic. “What it has shown is that our product is very good here in Australia, the A-League. The coach, Graham Arnold, obviously backs the league. 

“If you look at some of the players that were the stars of the World Cup: Craig Goodwin, a fantastic player for Adelaide, Mathew Leckie, a fantastic player at Melbourne City. Jamie McLaren did well when he played. 

“It should inspire all future players that want to play for the Socceroos one day to get into the A-Leagues. It’s a very good product that we have. 

“We should celebrate those players, but it also should inspire current players. 

“We anticipate that it should inspire many of our boys here to want to get into the Asian Cup squad and get on to the international stage and show the qualities that they have.”

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The question of how to get fans disengaged with the A-Leagues, or who have never engaged to begin with, into stadiums and then keep them there represents the other side of this inspiration coin, and Popovic admits that challenge is a multifaceted one. 

“An easy question to ask and I don’t think the answer is so simple and straightforward,” said the Victory coach. “But we have to all play our part, those that are involved in this great game. 

“We all celebrated the success of the Socceroos and how well they played. We’re all extremely proud of them.

“Everyone supporting here in Australia, getting up at the early hours of the morning to come out and support, we want that to transfer and get some new fans to the A-Leagues. 

“They’ve seen that the product is good. The players that they were cheering for, celebrating the goals that they scored are players that they can see week in, week out here. 

“You know we all have to do our part and it starts with us playing good football, keeping the product at a high level and then all together we have to strive towards filling the stadiums and if we do that, our product can only grow, it can only get better and I’m sure we’ll see more and more young talented players playing for the Socceroos from the A-League.

Victory will return to action this Sunday on the road to Macarthur FC, looking to leapfrog their foes and into the ALM’s top six with a win. 

Neither side had a representative in Graham Arnold’s side in Doha, both sides will be at almost full strength coming into the contest, although Bulls coach Dwight Yorke was on hand during the group stages with media commitments. 

Matt Spiranovic remains on the long-term injury list for Victory, although Tomi Juric and Jason Geria are both available for selection and will be assessed in the coming days as to their ability to contribute over the course of a full 90 minutes. 

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
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Header Image Credit: Football Australia / Aleksandar Kostadinoski


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