Popovic stands in way of Mariners treble: Arnold

George Clarke
Graham Arnold believes Tony Popovic (pictured) is well placed for A-League Men success. (Will Murray/AAP PHOTOS)
Graham Arnold believes Tony Popovic (pictured) is well placed for A-League Men success. (Will Murray/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Socceroos boss Graham Arnold is backing the Central Coast Mariners to snatch a historic treble, even if he believes the time has come for Tony Popovic to taste A-League Men glory.

Arnold will be a keen observer of Saturday’s grand final between the Mariners and Popovic’s Melbourne Victory side, given the Socceroos manager is close to naming his Australia squad for next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Palestine and Bangladesh.

Mariners duo Josh Nisbet and Jacob Farrell are expected to be in the frame for June’s matches, while Victory pair Bruno Fornaroli and Daniel Arzani will also be pushing for selection.

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Before taking the national team role in 2018, Arnold was part of - and coached against - some of the greatest teams of the A-League era.

Among those were his own Mariners and Sydney FC sides, but also Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane Roar outfits of the early 2010s.

If the Mariners add a championship to their premiership and AFC Cup crown, they would become the first Australian club to have a treble that boasts Asian silverware, an achievement Arnold labelled “incredible”.

“I loved my time at the Mariners and Sydney FC,” Arnold said.

“You can see they (the Mariners) have the strategy we had when I was there, give kids the opportunity to develop around some great leaders.

“(Goalkeeper) Danny Vukovic has been incredible, I truly believe he is a significant reason that the Mariners have done so well over the last two years is because of his leadership skills.

“I think they can (win the grand final), they’re going to have a great crowd behind them.”

But Arnold issued a word of caution, pointing to one of his old sparring partners in Popovic as the reason why the Mariners’ fairytale may not have a happy ending.

Now at his third ALM club, Popovic failed to win four grand finals across stints at Western Sydney Wanderers and Perth Glory.

And after watching the Mariners scrape past Sydney last week, Arnold concedes Central Coast’s successful continental run may have started to catch up with them.

“Melbourne Victory are going to be a real tough opponent and I think that, in a way, it’s Tony Popovic’s time to win a grand final,” Arnold said.

“He’s got a lot of players with a lot of experience that have been out there and done it before compared to the Mariners, where they have got a number of kids.

“A lot of it will be on how the Mariners deal with the week, and I felt they looked a little bit fatigued on the weekend.

“I think it will be how the Mariners deal with this week, more than the game, which will tell if they win it or not.”

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