Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic has denied reports the club was responsible for ending Michael Ballack’s career.
Germany captain Ballack was one of the names linked with Western Sydney after the 36-year-old finished his second stay at Bayer Leverkusen at the end of last season.
But some reports have indicated that Wanderers’ decision to take on Japanese international Shinji Ono as their marquee player spelled the end of Ballack’s career, leading to his retirement.
But Popovic has explicitly denied this, saying there is much more to the story.
“No player has been pushed upon me at any stage – Michael was no different,” Popovic declared in an interview with Fox Sports.
“He is a top class player, and when his name appears on your desk, you have to look into it.
“Let me make one thing clear – we never decided against him.
“I’m not going to go into the details of what happened, but there’s an awful lot that needs to happen to get a player like him over the line.
“People think it’s only on our side that it didn’t happen.”
Heading into Western Sydney’s first A-League clash on Saturday against Central Coast, Mariners coach Graham Arnold feels Popovic’s slightly testy response to some media questions over the last week may be indicative of the pressure he is under.
Arnold was Popovic’s last national coach before the defender called time on his Socceroos career in November 2006, but there seemed to be no quarter given by Arnold on Friday afternoon, as he turned up the mental heat on Popovic.
In what appeared an attempt to provoke Popovic, Arnold said in a release he was surprised Popovic turned his back on a lucrative role as an assistant at Championship club Crystal Palace to take on one of the toughest challenges in A-League history – starting a new club from scratch in a limited period of time after Gold Coast United was dumped from the competition.
“We’ve been having a bit of banter in texts but he’s reacted to the media yesterday, which is not like ‘Poppa’,” Arnold said.
“It’s interesting for him as well. Tony has come back from Crystal Palace where he had a fantastic job as assistant coach.
“I would have thought his future would have still been in England, but he’s taken the big punt to come home and coach in the A-League.
“He hasn’t had long to prepare the team, just 186 days to get the whole club together.
“It’s a massive job and from watching them on DVD, he has done a fantastic job to date.”