Non-stop Popović primed for continued consistency

Alexandar Popović is a defender wise beyond his years, and he will never rest on his laurels.

Alexandar Popović is a defender wise beyond his years, and he will never rest on his laurels.

After his Isuzu UTE A-League debut last season, the 20-year-old immediately took to the professional level and has flourished at the heart of the Reds’ defence.

But it hasn’t always been a smooth journey for the composed centre-back.

Popović revealed that he had previously struggled for consistency on the pitch due to a number of cruel injuries and interrupted pre-seasons that would have had a lot of young players questioning their future in the game.

“I’ve been injured every pre-season for the last three or four years and maybe played a maximum of six consecutive games leading into my debut, so it’s been really good having a full program under my belt,” Popović said.

“Over the last few years, I’ve dealt with a lot of injuries; I ruptured my syndesmosis (ankle) in my second training with the A-League team a couple of years ago.

Alexandar Popović in training at the VALO Training Centre.

“A few months later I had a stress fracture in my fibula, and I just came back at the beginning of this year from that.

“I’ve been doing a lot of training every day to get myself better, fitter, and stronger.”

Popović revealed that a strenuous but calculated pre-season has helped him stay on the park when he was previously plagued with injury troubles.

In fact, Popović has been keeping his body moving since the end of last season; he sat down with the Club’s Strength and Conditioning Coach, Django Gentilcore, and devised a plan for non-stop training through the cold winter months.

There was no ‘off-season’ break for the young professional who has learned a lot about the way his body responds to the arduous battles with opposing forwards on the pitch.

“I said to (Gentilcore): ‘I don’t feel I need a break. My body feels great so why should I stop all this progress?’

“I thought I may as well keep going and keep ticking so when pre-season came around for the squad I was in the best shape of my life.

“We built a program together to help keep me around the top of the group fitness-wise all through the pre-season.”

Just a kid living his dream – Alexandar Popović happy after a win over Perth Glory at Coopers Stadium.

When asked if Popović sometimes pinches himself at the rate at which he has broken and cemented his place in the United squad, it was more of a question of what he could be doing more.

“I sat down with my dad and my family after the season, after playing in the All Stars game, and found there wasn’t really a lot of time to look back on what I’ve done because I haven’t really done much yet.

“You know, there are players in our team who have played at this level for years, decades really, and they’re doing it at the same level every time.

“That’s really good for me and keeps me accountable, so I’m never satisfied.”

This constant desire to always be at his best and improving is originally derived from his father, Zeljko Popović, who was a fine player in his own regard and a respected figure in Adelaide’s local footballing circles.

Popović senior moved to Melbourne from former Yugoslavia around 30 years ago, before he arrived in Adelaide and played for SA at representative level.

Like his own personal coach, Popović’s dad tells him after every game what he needs to improve on and constantly keeps him on his toes.

Former Socceroo, Milan Ivanović, representing Australia in a World Cup Qualifier against Canada.

Perhaps unwittingly, the immovable Popović also has shades of Adelaide City and Socceroos great Milan Ivanović, his former Yugoslavia compatriot.

“My dad talks about him a lot and has a lot of respect for him, and he remembers watching (Ivanović) play and how good he was for Australia.

“I remember when I was just starting off as a centre-back and I was very inexperienced, my dad took me to where Milan was coaching, and we just had a chat.

“He basically said you just need to play and enjoy it as well because that’s how you’ll get better.”

But it was his current Head Coach, Carl Veart, who really transformed a young offensive-minded Popović into a defender, when they worked together in the U15 National Training Centre program. A ‘full-circle’ moment that has allowed Popović to truly grow into the position.

Defending in general is a fine art that takes years of experience to even get close to mastering.

And Popović has the determination to make a name for himself – well… more of a name.

Only at Coopers – Adelaide United memberships on-sale now.