Why Glory fans must trust the Popovic process

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In the 2017-18 A-League season Perth Glory were the second worst defensive team.

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They conceded 50 goals, missed the finals, and sacked the coach before season’s end.

Last year, under the tutelage of a new manager and with a new structure at the back that made a feature of talented home-grown defenders, Glory won their first premiers plate.

Player retention has always troubled the A-League and particularly Perth Glory, one of the world’s most isolated professional football clubs. And this season, once again, Glory find themselves with a fresh backline.

Jason Davidson, Shane Lowry and Matthew Spiranovic – all crucial last season – have left the club.

Four games in with a record of 1-2-1, player retention is hitting the club where it hurts. Perth’s mainstream media has turned on the club and attendance is yet to break the 10,000 mark that become the standard last season.

Perth fans now must be patient with this new crop of defenders and trust their coach. The biggest test of Tony Popovic’s ability to develop defensive groups will come in the next month.

Highly-touted Swiss underage representative Gregory Wuthrich has struggled through the first few games of the season and was subbed off before half-time in the round four clash against Central Coast Mariners.

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Jacob Tratt struggled with fitness early in the season, James Meredith is still weeks away from debuting for the club, Osama Malik has strained a hamstring and Tomislav Mrcela is also returning from injury.

So it is sure to be a rocky month ahead. Both Wuthrich and Tratt, as well as Meredith, Mrcela and Soobeom Kim will benefit from time as part of Popovic’s system.

The coach’s ability to develop defenders was a big selling point in Jacob Tratt’s move west at the end of last season. And it’s in Ivan Franjic’s turn-around year that Popovic’s skill as a defender-whisperer is highlighted.

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In 2017 Franjic had been released from the last year of his contract at Melbourne City after two years plagued by injury. He moved to Daegu FC in South Korea where he made just two appearances and shifted to Brisbane for the 2017-18 season. By the end of the 2018-19 season, he was one of the most important cogs in a Glory machine that only narrowly missed out on its first championship.

Glory averaged 0.85 goals against per game last year, with a defensive group that was as raw at the start of its campaign as this one, and with the same midfield pairing sitting in front of it.

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Off-season signings were made later this season than they were in the last so player development and team cohesion will require some patience.

Fans must trust the process. Attendance is already down and the club hasn’t had quite its usual cut through in the early period of this season in their home city.

But the best defensive coach in the league, supplemented by an excellent front three will come good before too long.

Feature Image Credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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