For the first time in more than 12 months, the Western Sydney Wanderers will go face to face with the man that not only took them to dizzying heights in the club’s early years but also dramatically walked out on them.
In October 2017, foundation coach Tony Popovic quit the Wanderers a week out from the start of the A-League season, to join Super Lig club Karabükspor.
Popovic’s stint in Turkey was rather short-lived and this season he returns to the A-League as head coach of Perth Glory.
In what can only be described as the perfect season opener, the Wanderers will begin their 2018/19 campaign against the Glory this Sunday night at NIB Stadium.
Speaking with the Weekender ahead of this weekend’s clash, new Wanderers captain Brendan Hamill said he hasn’t heard from Popovic since he bolted last year.
“I’m not sure if the other boys have heard from him but he just left and went off to Turkey… I haven’t heard from him since. It is what it is, but I’ll be seeing him on Sunday for the first time,” the 26-year-old said.
“No matter what anyone says there’s always going to be a little extra spice to this clash regardless if you’ve played under Popa or not.
“I think it will be in a lot of people’s minds, especially the fans, but we’ve got a job to do. For us, it’s business as usual but it will be extra sweet if we can get one over them in the first game of the season and over the ex-coach.”
When Popovic walked on the Wanderers a week out from the start of the 2017/18 season, it sent the club into disarray. Assistant coach Hayden Foxe took over in the interim before Josep Gombau was hired and fired within the space of six months.
To make sure the club was stable and disruption-free ahead of this season, the Wanderers swiftly appointed former German international Markus Babbel as their new head coach in May.
Hamill admitted this pre-season was a lot less turbulent than the last.
“It’s nice to start a pre-season with a coach there so that you can fully buy in and get around his philosophy and way of coaching,” he said.
The Wanderers and Glory do battle on Sunday night at 7pm.
Nathan Taylor is the Western Weekender’s award-winning sports journalist. Nathan is also the Weekender’s Deputy Editor.