Tony Popovic is the best coach in the A-League, but the Perth Glory boss still has a point to prove domestically and he may do so on Sunday.
Popovic led Perth to their first piece of A-League silverware by claiming the premiership this season after an impressive campaign.
Deservedly named coach of the year for a second time, the former Australia international has dominated domestically, aside from winning arguably the biggest prize on offer – the championship.
An A-League Grand Final win has eluded Popovic and it is beginning to shape as a hoodoo. In six seasons as a coach in Australia’s top flight, the 45-year-old has reached the decider four times, the latest of which will come when Perth host Sydney FC on Sunday.
— Perth Glory FC (@PerthGloryFC) May 16, 2019
But he is winless, experiencing heartbreak with the Western Sydney Wanderers in 2013, 2014 and 2016. A defeat to the Central Coast Mariners was followed by an extra-time loss to Brisbane Roar before going down to Adelaide United.
Given Popovic led the Wanderers to the biggest prize in Asian club football – the AFC Champions League in 2014 – the Grand Final failures are hard to explain.
Along with an FFA Cup, a championship is all that is missing from Popovic’s resume domestically.
— Perth Glory FC (@PerthGloryFC) May 15, 2019
He returned from a forgettable spell with Karabukspor in Turkey to take the helm at Perth, an underperforming club filled with potential they had not fulfilled since the days of the now-defunct National Soccer League (NSL).
Popovic turned that around quickly. Perth were clearly the A-League’s standout and most consistent team this season, losing just three of 27 regular-season games and finishing eight points clear at the top. They will record their highest average crowd since the A-League started and another 60,000 people are expected to fill Optus Stadium on Sunday.
Yet, there was an element of nervousness about Perth in their thrilling penalty shoot-out win over Adelaide in an incredible Semi-Final.
And if Popovic and his team are unable to find a way against a dangerous Sydney side, their season will finish with an undeserved element of disappointment.
For the coach himself, it is a chance to end Grand Final misery, or see a hoodoo only grow for at least another year.