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Popovic dares to dream of breaking ALM grand-final run

3 minute read

Tony Popovic is adamant the one trophy missing from his decorated coaching resume, an A-League championship, doesn't eat at him ahead of a fifth grand final.

TONY POPOVIC. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

Tony Popovic is philosophical when he ponders the harsh lessons learned from four separate grand-final heartbreaks.

Former Socceroos defender Popovic will be on the sidelines for a record fifth A-League Men grand final when Melbourne Victory take on Central Coast in Gosford on Saturday.

Popovic earned the 2012-13 premiership and the 2013-14 Asian Champions League title at Western Sydney, but lost three grand finals in 2013, 2014 and 2016.

At Perth Glory, he claimed the 2018-19 premiership but lost that year's decider.

Popovic, 50, insists it doesn't eat at him, but he's determined as ever.

"What I've learned from a few of them is that I've always tried to do the opposite of what I did when I lost a final," Popovic said.

"And I've realised that that doesn't work because you're always searching for something different.

"Now, I've just stuck to more my instincts, the process, understanding what the group is, the dynamic, and what works best for them as opposed to trying to do the opposite of what I had done before.

"And I feel comfortable with that. In the end, it's one game of football and a trophy is on the line.

"We're here because we deserve to be here. And to win it we have to earn it."

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold and Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou are among those to publicly hint this could be Popovic's year.

"I hope they're both right," he said with a laugh.

On paper, Victory are the underdogs - having fought through brutal elimination and semi-finals to tee up a clash with the Mariners, who are chasing a premiership, AFC Cup and championship treble.

Popovic hasn't leaned into the underdog narrative, while embracing the high expectations, and criticism, that comes with coaching Victory.

"When it's really mattered in three difficult games we've been able to get through adversity and win these football matches," he said.

"So from that point of view, I love the fact that people expect.

"I'd hate to be in a position where you get a pat on the back for trying hard. That's not in my nature. It's not how I was brought up by my parents.

"You're always looking to do better and with that you put yourself out there that there's a high expectation of yourself and what you're doing."

Popovic's time at Victory has come amid challenging personal circumstances, with his family split between Croatia, Sydney and Melbourne.

It's among his considerations when contemplating whether to extend his Victory contract, with talks parked until season's end.

"That will all take care of itself, again," he said.

"Would I like to be here? For me I love being the coach of Melbourne Victory.

"There are all different reasons for why it's been delayed. But we're both comfortable with the situation and it was always going to be that way going back to January and February.

"It wasn't about 'do we want the coach to stay or 'do I want to stay?' (It was) 'let's talk about that at the end' with different situations that are going on and personal situations from both sides.

"And we're happy with the way it will progress and I'm sure that'll happen over the next couple of weeks."

But first, comes potentially claiming that elusive trophy.

"I've never thought of it in the way of what it would or could do for me personally," Popovic said.

"I think of it as a collective, how special it'll be to be head coach of this group - winning this trophy with the journey we've been on for three years."

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