There are more than a few common threads in the footballing journeys of Tony Popovic and Kevin Muscat.
Once united in defence for the Socceroos, Tony Popovic and Kevin Muscat are now more used to fighting their battles from the sidelines.
Swapping slide tackles for press conferences, Popovic and Muscat have turned illustrious playing careers into two already distinguished managerial reigns.
While Muscat has a Hyundai A-League Championship that has so far alluded the Wanderers, Popovic has done what no other coach in Australian football has by seeing the Red & Black crowned champions of Asia; a feat made all the more remarkable considering both the club and Popovic’s managing career had started only two years prior.
Wrapping up his playing career in 2008 with Sydney FC after stints with Crystal Palace, Sanfreece Hiroshima and Al-Arabi, Popovic like Muscat embraced an assistant coaching role. After some time in this position with Sydney FC, Popovic had a spell as a caretaker first team coach at Palace before making the leap to standalone manager in 2012 with Western Sydney.
Anointed Hyundai A-League Coach of the Year after his first season in which he clinched a Premiership for the new club, Popovic went one better the year after as he was crowned AFC Coach of the Year in 2014 after guiding the Red & Black to a historic Asian Champions League win.
Though after three agonising Hyundai A-League Grand Final defeats, there’s no doubting what Popovic now craves most.
One man who has tasted that Hyundai A-League success is Kevin Muscat, who started his transition to the manager’s seat when he became assistant coach of Melbourne Victory while still playing for them in 2009.
After a playing career that saw him also line-up for Crystal Palace during 1996 and 1997, as well as stints with Rangers and Milwall, Muscat spent four seasons as an assistant coach at the Victory before being appointed their manager in 2013.
Much like Popovic, Muscat tasted success quickly earning the title of Hyundai A-League Coach of the Year in the 2014-15 season after taking out the Premiership, Championship and FFA Cup in the same season.
In the 11 matches played against one another, Muscat has the edge winning seven and Popovic claiming two, with the points having been shared on two occasions.
As these once commanding centre-backs and now equally commanding managers look to do battle a twelth time, you can be sure their tale is set for another enthralling chapter.