'Pushed to that edge': Why 2018/19 was a 'warm up' for Ikonomidis & Glory
The sense that Perth Glory could achieve something special is so strong you could almost touch it.
That’s the feeling Chris Ikonomidis gets as the West Australian club prepares for the new Hyundai A-League season.
Tony Popovic’s side are readying for two giant steps: one further in the Hyundai A-League, and one huge stride – for the first time ever – into the AFC Champions League.
And after propelling Perth to their maiden Premiership in 2018/19, 24-year-old Caltex Socceroo Ikonomidis is up for the challenge on both fronts.
The Cronulla-born forward scored nine goals, tallied three assists, earned Young Footballer of the Year award honours and a Caltex Socceroos recall on the back of his sterling form last campaign.
But there was just one thing missing for Ikonomidis – the Championship. And that painful penalty shootout loss to Sydney FC in May is spurring he and his Glory teammates on to even greater heights.
“We had a fantastic season last year, becoming Premiers and qualifying for the Champions League,” Ikonomidis told www.aleague.com.au.
“But that Grand Final is obviously missing.
“We learned a lot from that. It was my first Grand Final so I think it was only a little taste, it was only a warm up.”
You can feel it at the training ground
Despite falling at the final hurdle, Perth took the Hyundai A-League by storm last season as they ended their 14-year wait for league silverware.
Alongside Spanish maestro Diego Castro and the now-departed Irish striker Andy Keogh, Ikonomidis contributed heavily to the record-breaking 59 goals the club scored en route to their maiden Premiers Plate.
And with a Premiership-winning platform laid down by Popovic, and a first season in WA now under Ikonomidis’ belt, the former talent of Serie A club Lazio says fans can expect more to come.
“It took a few months to get used to the team, the city and my teammates so that’s all under my belt now,” he said.
“We don’t have to start from scratch like last year, we are already on a really good foundation so there’s only up from here.
“We just take off from where we left off last year and that’s going to give us a huge advantage.
“This season is going to be big for us, you can kind of feel it at the training ground.”
Ready to be unleashed
Ikonomidis has been wrapped in cotton wool during Perth’s pre-season as he nears recovery from the dislocated shoulder joint he suffered against Central Coast Mariners in April.
That injury saw him miss a Caltex Socceroos camp for June’s friendly with Korea Republic, and the club’s high profile friendly with Manchester United in July.
But having returned to full-contact training, Ikonomidis is aiming to be fully fit and raring to go for Round 1 – a home clash with Robbie Fowler’s Brisbane Roar at HBF Park.
“After the Grand Final I took a week off just to relax with my family, and then I had a little operation on my shoulder just to tighten things up.
“I went through the initial rehab and then just enjoyed time with my family.
“I wasn’t too far from training though, I was always doing something and thinking about this season in the back of my mind.”
Ikonomidis is now fully up to speed with what has been a typically painful Popovic pre-season.
“It’s been tough so far as every pre-season is, but it’s smartly planned,” he said.
“They won’t drive us to the point of injury, they’ll push us to that edge and then back off.
“They know us, our bodies and our mindsets very well, and it’s all planned to get the maximum out of us at round one.
“The boys have come in really fit because that’s the expectation at our club now.
“There’s a good winning culture that’s developing well, so it’s going to be interesting and exciting to see what we can produce this year.”
He's the reason I chose Perth
The tactical and managerial nous of Popovic – who won the 2014 AFC Champions League with Western Sydney Wanderers – will be even more important to Perth this season, as the club balance their campaign on dual fronts.
Ikonomidis is relishing the chance to continue his development under the 46-year-old taskmaster.
“I’ve got a great relationship with him, he’s the reason I chose Perth over many clubs,” he said.
“To work with him and under his culture, he’s always pushing me to do well and do better even when I think I’ve done well.
“He pulls me aside and tells me things I haven’t done so well; there’s always stuff I need to work on and that’s what I need.
“I don’t want to take my foot off the pedal at all; I want someone to keep pushing me to achieve my best.”