As a season-ending 1-0 loss to cross-town rival Melbourne City on Sunday afternoon loomed ever closer, Melbourne Victory appeared almost certain to claim its first ever A-League wooden spoon.
Melbourne Victory will give Tony Popovic free rein to overhaul the struggling A-League club when he takes over as head coach in July.
The former Socceroos defender’s appointment on a three-year deal was confirmed on Thursday, less than a week after Grant Brebner’s exit following last Sunday’s humiliating 7-0 loss to Melbourne City at AAMI Park.
The 47-year-old, who has had successful stints in charge of Western Sydney and Perth Glory, will return to the A-League after being sacked by Xanthi in February following nine games in charge of the Greek second division club.
Once a powerhouse, Victory have struggled following the end of Kevin Muscat’s successful six-year spell in May 2019 with Marco Kurz, Carlos Salvachua and Brebner all coming and going as head coaches.
In a statement to members, Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro said Popovic would be given carte blanche to overhaul all aspects of the club’s underperforming football department.
“As is always the way at Melbourne Victory, Tony as head coach will be responsible for the entire A-League program overseeing support staff, recruitment, list management and our A-League playing style and performance,” Di Pietro said.
Popovic’s success as a coach, including a historic Asian Champions League win in 2014 with the Wanderers and two A-League premierships, made him the leading candidate to replace Brebner, Di Pietro said.
“He is a proven head coach who is strong and clear in his approach and we are confident that he is the right man to take our football program forward,” Di Pietro said.
Englishman Steve Kean will lead Victory for the remainder of the 2020-21 campaign as the club aims to avoid the first wooden spoon in its history.
With Popovic’s arrival imminent, Di Pietro said it was clear to the club’s current players their futures were on the line over the last few weeks of the season.
“It is going to be a challenge given the circumstances we are in and with a depleted squad,” he said.
“However, the club’s expectation is that all our current players show intent and a determined fighting spirit.”
Victory face Popovic’s old club Western Sydney at Marvel Stadium on Friday.