Joel Chianese has given an insight into the impact coach Tony Popovic has had on Perth Glory, revealing the significant culture change behind the club’s impressive start to the Hyundai A-League season.
After missing the Finals Series last season, Glory have made a stunning start to the 2018/19 campaign, still unbeaten and sitting atop of the ladder after eight rounds.
While Chianese admits there have been a number of factors behind Glory’s superb start, the arrival of Popovic has underpinned it all.
“[Popovic’s appointment] was just what we needed at the club. It’s a bit of a culture change and just getting everybody’s mentality to switch,” Chianese told www.a-league.com.au.
“The last few years we’ve been able to beat the top teams and then the next week we might lose against the team coming last. It’s just the consistency and the discipline that Popa has brought to the club where everybody comes to training and performs every day.
“He gets the best out of each individual player by dealing with them in a different way. But at the same time you know exactly what he wants and what his expectations are.
“Everyone knows where they stand and what they are expected to do. It’s a big part of every game, knowing your role and making sure you do it.”
As a result, out have gone Glory’s enigmatic performances, replaced by a steely resolve and never-say-die mentality.
It comes from a relentless pre-season schedule where the squad were pushed to their limits.
“It was a lot of double sessions, if not triple. We were basically [at the training ground] most of the day which is a big change to what we were used to at Glory the last few years,” Chianese said.
“It was a big change. Even when you thought ‘I’m a bit tired and I can’t get through another session’, it was still put on for us and everyone got through it.
“And once you do get through it you just have that resilience that you’re fit for when the season starts.
“There’s an awesome atmosphere at the club and the feeling I’m getting with this team is amazing. I’ve never felt something like this in my career.”
Best form of his career
Whatever Popovic has done has certainly worked wonders with Sydney-born attacker.
In his sixth full season in the Hyundai A-League, Chianese is arguably in career-best form and has started seven of the eight matches this campaign.
And he’s contributing all over the park, with seven interceptions and a passing accuracy of 80% to go with his one goal and one assist.
“Popa has put a lot of confidence in me. He said I don’t believe in myself as much as he believes in me," Chianese explained.
"That’s been a big part of getting my mind right, staying positive and knowing the coaching staff are behind me and the players are behind me.
“And it’s probably the first pre-season where I haven’t got any injuries. It’s easily the fittest I’ve ever been and probably the strongest as well.
“When we’ve done things like a hamstring test, the numbers compared to the last few seasons are so much better and that’s because I basically got through so many weeks in pre-season without being injured.”
Staying under the radar
While Glory are perched at the top of the ladder and remain the only unbeaten team in the Hyundai A-League, it's been Kevin Muscat’s Melbourne Victory who have been generating plenty of headlines.
Led by high-profile imports Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen, Victory – currently on a six-game winning streak - remain many experts tip for the title.
But Chianese isn’t concerned at the apparent snub, happy for his side to stay out of the limelight.
“We’re sort of away from all the hype and the media, maybe the teams on the east are saying certain things and we don’t really hear it,” he said.
“And Popa likes it and wants us to embrace it because we can do what we want, no one really sees what we’re doing and come the weekend when the game is on they realise, ‘hey these guys can really play’.
“It’s interesting. We don’t really get all that hype but I think it’s starting to grow.
“We’ve been on top of the table for four or five weeks so it’s growing but we’re just embracing it.”
Big test to Glory’s title credentials
Glory may be contenders for the Hyundai A-League Premiership right now but they face a side on Friday night who have owned that mantle over the last two seasons.
While the 2018/19 version of Sydney FC has been a little less ruthless and consistent as recent campaigns, Chianese is well aware of the challenge his side faces at nib Stadium.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game. They still have a very good team with some very good players,” said Chianese, who was at the Sky Blues from 2008-14.
“But the trip over here is not easy and we need to make the most of that.
“We know when teams come over here the travel isn’t easy to adjust to so we have to start well and get on top early and that could set the tone for the rest of the game.”