“I’ve really enjoyed my time in Perth, working with great people and living in the city,” Popovic said in a statement. “An opportunity has now come for me to pursue in Europe, but I’m very thankful to everyone for making my time in Perth so enjoyable.”
The appointment continues a golden era for Australian coaches abroad, with Ange Postecoglou and Peter Cklamovski at the helm of J.League teams, ex-Melbourne Victory boss Kevin Muscat now in Belgium and Joe Montemurro coaching Arsenal’s star-studded women’s side.
It is Popovic’s third foray into European coaching: he was first an assistant at English outfit Crystal Palace for the 2011-12 season, before moving to Turkish club Karabukspor with Kalac in tow after five years with the Wanderers.
Popovic only lasted two months in Turkey, with the club sacking him after just nine games in charge, but the presence of an Australian owner in Papas should ensure he is given enough time and backing to see his plans through with Xanthi, and sources indicate that he will effectively be given total control of football operations.
“The opportunity to work with an Australian owner, I think that weighed heavily in the decision,” said Glory chief executive Tony Pignata. “The most interesting aspect was the way he could go and set this club up and coach in Europe.”
What division Xanthi will be in remains to be seen. The club lost its two-leg Greek Super League relegation play-off with Apollon Smyrni on Sunday but is believed to be challenging the outcome with football authorities in a bid to stay in the top flight.
Few of Xanthi’s players would be familiar to Australian audiences, but it would be no surprise if Popovic brought some A-League talent with him. Indeed, he may yet be joined by his sons, Gabriel and Kristian, who played this season with Perth Glory and are currently in self-quarantine after they were knocked out of the A-League finals last week by Sydney FC.
“We can’t really comment on that, that’s a discussion for another day,” said Perth’s football director Jacob Burns when asked if Popovic’s sons would also be moving to Greece.
Popovic initially told journalists after Perth lost 2-0 to the Sky Blues in last week’s semi-final that he had no knowledge of any offer from a Greek club, despite reports that emerged moments after the full-time whistle that he was heading to Xanthi.
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.