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The Roar


Flourishing in a new league and a new culture: Alexander Popovic's rise to Asia and perfect start at a new Korean club

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Roar Guru
13th March, 2024

The city of Gwangju may not be the largest in South Korea, but its small-town vibe is perfect for any young Australian footballer playing there for the first time.

Alexander Popovic is the latest in a long line of Australian defenders experiencing the delights of the country after his recent transfer.

Affectionally known as Poppa’s, the young man from Adelaide was outstanding on debut in his side’s upset victory in the opening weekend of the K League against one of the competition’s giants – FC Seoul. It became two-from-two following a 4-2 win against Gangwon, which has his side on top of the table.

The 21-year-old Poppa has partnered with a man 13 years his senior in Gwangju legend Ahn Young-kyu at the heart of the defence and produced a commanding display – overcoming the challenge of the language barrier.

The club’s manager Lee Jung-hyo, has been impressed with the Australian’s performance in training and already Popovic looks to be one of the first names on the team sheet.

It has been quite the meteoric rise for a player that could’ve been lost to the sport due to concussions.

As a fearless defender who is not afraid to stick his head in places it shouldn’t go, Popovic has experienced multiple injuries over the course of his short career.


While the concussion protocol is a hot topic within football across the world at the moment, what Popovic has gone through could be a case study on its own.

His talent was there for all to see during his time at the Adelaide Comets junior program, which is the largest in South Australia – boasting over several hundred juniors.

The priority first and foremost is to defend and Popovic does that extremely well, with an old-school style that many young centrebacks in Australia currently seem scared of.

Popovic is not afraid to get physical, to the point where he will go through a player to win the ball – even if that means earning a yellow card in the process.

Development of Australian centrebacks is geared towards the ball-playing variety, which Popovic is very good at it – but it was his aggressive defending in his teenage years that really caught the eye.

In contrast to his junior days, the highlight of his time in the A-League was his vision and passing.


There was not a young Australian starting centreback playing professionally, that had a better passing range over 20 yards.

Passes were constantly hit clean and crisp with perfect weight, and he was used as an outlet for his side midfielders when they were either pinned in or needed an attack started through the lines.

In terms of areas of improvement, the biggest one would be – becoming a threat in the opposition box.

Popovic was working on this in his final season at Adelaide though, where he had eight attempts at goal and scored once.

Alexander Popovic Adelaide United Gwangju

Alexander Popovic playing for Adelaide United. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

He must also improve the accuracy of long diagonal balls, which have become a staple of being a centreback in today’s modern game.

Life in Gwanju is not all about his football. Popovic is more than likely having to deal with challenges like homesickness, food, language and a culture that is unfamiliar.


Popovic is not dealing with this alone though, his new Brazilian teammate Gabriel Tigrao has also felt uneasy with this.

If Poppa keeps up his form, a call-up to the Socceroo’s squad would not be out of the question down the track – especially as Australia’s first-choice of centreback pairing is not locked in.

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But right now, Alex Popovic just needs to concentrate on developing his game. His attitude in training has already opened the door, and if he keeps it up; a move to Europe could come sooner than most think.