Outside of coverage in his homeland it’s astonishing how little interest or reaction there’s been across Asia to Tony Popovic’s appointment at Turkish club Karabukspor – one of the incredibly rare times that an Asian coach has managed to land a job in a top flight European league.
Perhaps it speaks to insularity in nations across the continent or perhaps to the leaning disdain that Australia is still held with elsewhere in the region, but make no mistake this appointment is a historic one and should be greeted with the same kind of fanfare that regularly meets the transfer of Asian players to Europe.
Having built Western Sydney Wanderers literally from scratch and then remarkably led them to the Asian Champions League in their second season of existence, not to mention having a previous spell as assistant coach at Crystal Palace in England and a storied playing career, Popovic certainly has the credentials to have both earned this appointment and have a good chance at success.
Frankly, it’s amazing that it’s taken this long for a coach from Asia to have earned such a post and it’s worth remembering that Turkey is 10th on UEFA’s ‘co-efficiency’ table, placing them above the likes of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece and Scotland and with a impassioned fan base that few can rival in Europe. So this isn’t some backwater post and Popovic’s appointment should be headline news right across Asia.
Without overstating things, this is a watershed moment for Asian football and a potential crack in what until this point had been close to an impenetrable glass ceiling.
Only five Asian coaches have won the ACL over the past decade and if it’s taken this long for one of them to earn a job in a major European league goodness knows when it will be that someone at a lower level does.
Popovic took WSW to AFC CL glory.
Just as players across Asia cherish the chance to play at a high level in Europe, so too coaches yearn for the chance to work there and every single coach with that ambition should be willing Popovic to succeed and pave the wave for others from across Asia to be given a chance.
Given that he’s going to a nation where he doesn’t speak the language or has no cultural ties there’s no reason why a Korean or Japanese coach or others couldn’t dream of being next in line.
That he’s abandoned the Wanderers less than a week out from the start of the domestic season and given that he’s expected to take four members of his backroom staff with him is less than ideal, but it speaks volumes to both the club that didn’t stand in his way and the ambition of the man himself to jump into the unknown.
He’s taking the reins at a club that currently sit third from bottom, with just one win from seven matches, a modest playing group and who have a history of bouncing between the divisions so the challenge is certainly a stiff one.
— WS Wanderers FC (@wswanderersfc) October 1, 2017
As difficult as that is it’s likely to be an easier ride than he had when assembling the Wanderers barely a couple of months out from the start of their maiden season where, as he told FOX Sports Asia earlier this year, the club didn’t have any training facilities, no players and not even any basic office equipment.
“The reason I took that job was because I knew what was possible immediately and I could see what was possible after that.
“We assembled the squad basically from players that were released by other clubs and maybe they lacked a little talent, but they showed great spirit and belief remembering that there was no training ground or kit when we started.
“What we did in winning the Champions League after just two years is something that’s hard to comprehend when it’s still fresh but as time passes I think people will start to understand just how impressive a feat that was.”
Hopefully, for coaches right across Asia – both now and for those to come – history will also look back on Popovic’s foray into European football as being just as impressive.