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Poignant return to Western Sydney for Perth's Popa

Poignant return to Western Sydney for Perth's Popa
FILE PHOTO: Western Sydney Wanderers soccer team coach Tony Popovic laughs at the team's training facility at Rooty Hill in the western suburbs of Sydney, October 21, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo -
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Jason Reed(Reuters)
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SYDNEY (Reuters) - If anyone deserves a warm welcome from Western Sydney Wanderers fans it is probably Tony Popovic but the Perth Glory boss is uncertain what kind of reception he will receive when he returns for the first time as the coach of the opposition on Sunday.

Part of the reason for his uncertainty might be the distinctive fan culture that developed in Western Sydney during the remarkably successful early years of the A-League expansion club under Popovic's management.

Another might be the fact that the Midas touch Popovic displayed in that time at Wanderers has helped turn Perth Glory from midtable mediocrities into runaway A-League title favourites this season.

"You don't know with fans what the reaction will be," Popovic chuckled on Friday when asked how the Wanderers fans would greet him.

"Whatever it is, I'm sure deep down they'll respect the time we had together. How they show that will be up to them."

The former Socceroos defender's place in the short history of the Wanderers is already assured after he led them to three A-league finals and the 2014 Asian Champions League title in the first four years of the club's existence.

Perth Glory have been around a lot longer but the Popovic era is already promising to be their most successful since they won the last two National Soccer League (NSL) titles before the birth of the A-League in the early years of the century.

Already nine points clear at the top of the Australian top flight with eight rounds remaining, anything other than a loss on Sunday would give the Glory a club record 11th successive game without defeat.

Wanderers began a downward spiral even before Popovic's sudden departure in 2017 and despite the recruitment of former Germany international Markus Babbel as coach, they are struggling in eighth place in the 10-team league.

They have been effectively homeless since their Parramatta Stadium was demolished in 2017 to make way for a new A$360 million (196.58 million pounds) arena and on Sunday they will host Popovic's team at the Sydney Showground Stadium.

"It'll be a first back in Sydney, it would be a bit different if it was the old Parramatta Stadium... but it will be a special one," Popovic, 45, said.

"I have fantastic memories from my time there. I still have a lot of friends there and I'm sure I'll see them before and after.

"During the game it's business as usual, we want the three points."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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