The Asian Champions League is the one tournament where the A-League clubs can show what they can do in front of the whole Asian footballing community.
So far, the Western Sydney Wanderers are the only team to get their hands on that trophy, led by the current Perth Glory coach Tony Popovic. But is the only Australian coach to win the ACL enough to steer Perth to Asian glory?
Perth destroyed the A-League this season, recording an outstanding 18 wins in just 27 games, with only three losses. They showed outstanding consistency but crumbled at the final hurdle, losing to Sydney FC on penalties in the grand final.
Nevertheless, they showed outstanding depth in their squad, and last season was a revelation for a team that finished eighth in the 2017-18 campaign.
A-League teams always seem to crumble in Asia. Although there is a considerable gap in quality, Western Sydney showed that what seems impossible can be done.
This season, Sydney FC had a mixed ACL campaign, but they never seemed to get rolling, and probably could have benefited from less fixture congestion. The same could be said for Melbourne Victory, although their efforts were a lot more disappointing due to the squad they had.
But is that where Perth Glory have the lead on other Australian clubs?
Tony Popovic was the only coach who managed to use his full squad depth, and if Perth chose to focus on the ACL, they would definitely be contenders to make the knock-out stages and maybe even pull off a dramatic surprise and clinch the trophy.
But what makes Perth so different from the rest of the A-League, and why should they be contenders?
The Glory have one of the best coaches in Asia, let alone Australia.
Popovic brings a different level of consistency and knows how to utilise his players’ abilities to get the best out of them. The formation he has set up shows that, with each of his players getting to play their preferred position.
He utilises the hard-nosed defensive skills of Dino Djulbic and Shane Lowry, as well as the composure and vision of Matthew Spiranovic, Neil Kilkenny and Juande. He gets the best out of the attacking part of Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson while applying their defensive assets perfectly. He exploits the creativity of Diego Castro and Chris Ikonomidis and gets the best out of Andy Keogh’s clinical ability.
That was the line-up that beat Wellington Phoenix 5-0 playing the style needed to beat some of the biggest teams in Asia.
It was free-flowing, beautiful, attacking football that was stunning to watch. It may not have been as exhilarating as their semi-final win over Adelaide United or the 4-3 victory over the Wanderers, but from a tactical point of view, it was one of the most exciting things that we’ve seen all season.
It gave Perth Glory fans hope just before the finals, but it gave me hope that an Australian team can flourish in Asia.
It is a really exciting prospect, and although Perth have lost key player Jason Davidson among others, they seem to have what it takes.
They have shown they’re consistent and that they can rotate their squad comfortably. And although they have next to no experience against Asian teams, Tony Popovic could be enough.