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Is three Popovics a few too many?

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Expert
7th September, 2020
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Xanthi FC, based in the north-east of Greece, is not currently enjoying a particularly good time in Greek football.

After being docked 12 points for ownership irregularities, the club found itself entrenched in a two-legged play-off relegation fight with Apollon Smyrni, which they subsequently lost 4-1.

Allegedly, invested parties at PAOK Thessaloniki were similarly invested at Xanthi, a situation banned in Greek football.

Thus Xanthi was demoted to the Greek Super League 2 competition for the upcoming season, but pending legal action will see the club fight to overturn its relegation. The club was unable to field its full-strength senior squad for the play-offs, with financial challenges forcing them to stand down players.

The courts will determine the outcome, and Australian owner Bill Papas will be hoping his new acquisition is not forced to suffer through a season of stress before potentially returning to the top flight in the short-term future.

The Sydney Olympic president began the process of investing in the club in August of 2019 and, at some point afterwards, made contact with the then Perth Glory manager Tony Popovic about another overseas opportunity.

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After considerable A-League success in Western Sydney and more recently having returned Perth Glory to respectability, Popovic apparently felt on top of his coaching game and agreed with Papas that the time was right for another adventure abroad.

Of course the 47-year-old knows all too well the risks and dangers with packing up the tent and shifting overseas to leagues and situations where the unknown can potentially turn the entire process into something of a nightmare.

Such was the case when Popovic left the Wanderers without a mentor shortly before the 2017-18 A-League season, screaming out the door at the 11th hour to take up a coaching position in Turkey with Karabükspor.

It was to be a short-lived adventure for both he and loyal assistant Zeljko Kalac. In all, there were just 11 games for Popovic in Turkey before things apparently became a little financially hairy and the two Aussies made a hasty retreat.

Now, for the second time, Popovic will walk away from an A-League club that expected him to continue coaching into the near future, something for which he has taken some criticism. However, with dreams of a successful career in Europe still obviously burning, Popovic cannot be blamed for holding such ambition, despite some fans of the A-League teams he has managed feeling a little peeved.

Without the courage to take opportunities when they present themselves, the man affectionately known as ‘Poppa’ would always remain merely a top-quality A-League coach and perhaps never ever discover whether he was in fact capable of far more.

Tony Popovic

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Criticism and doubt have also circled his recruitment and selection of sons, Kristian and Gabriel Popovic, during his time at Perth. Both are promising young players – raw but also on something of a public opinion hiding to nothing while playing in their father’s team.

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As many of us in the football community have experienced, coaching your own child is a challenging task and one that almost automatically brings criticism from those on the periphery. Parents are often prone to critique a coach’s continued support for and selection of one of their own, convinced that the family bond may be clouding the judgment of the person in charge.

With the news that both Kristian and Gabriel might be joining their father in Greece in the Xanthi squad, many feel the situation is beginning to look rather convenient for the entire Popovic family.

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The boys are competent and skilled players, yet for both of them to be absorbed into the Glory system and then briskly find their way into Xanthi FC appears far too convenient for many fans of Australian football.

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Perceived nepotism can split a dressing room like nothing else, and no doubt the Xanthi players would be watching closely to see whether the new manager has brought some top-quality youngsters with him or merely his sons along for the ride.

It all does seem a little convenient, yet should Popovic do well in his first season and his sons indeed impress the Greek football world, all will be calm.

However, as many have pointed out on social media over the last few days, Popovic has walked out on another A-League club, headed overseas with a huge task on his hands and may take his two unproven sons with him in the hope of them becoming top-class European professionals.

It is a mighty task and one for which no-one should wish Popovic ill. Yet the precariousness of the circumstances makes the difference between success or failure so minute.