Tony Popovic insists all minds are completely focused on football in the Western Sydney Wanderers camp despite the recent pay dispute between the club and first-team squad.
The Asian champions take on Cruz Azul in the FIFA Club World Cup quarter-finals in Rabat Sunday morning (AEDT), but the build-up has been complicated by a disagreement over bonus payments which was rumoured to have put the team’s participation in doubt.
The players were originally offered a share of only 10 per cent of the prize money from the prestigious tournaments, compared to the 50% they collected from winning the AFC Champions League in November.
But a compromise was reached on Thursday, and the Wanderers coach insists that there was never any doubt in his mind that everyone in the club was concentrating fully on Saturday’s clash.
“I haven’t felt a need to feel relief. As a coach, I’ve seen the preparations so far, I’ve the players’ focus, I’ve seen the club is focused on the tournament and we’ve prepared well for this match,” the 41-year-old told a pre-match media conference.
The Parramatta-based outfit will face Real Madrid in the semi-finals if they see off Cruz Azul, and Popovic admits it has been a whirlwind two-and-a-half years since the club’s formation.
“It’s a miracle! We haven’t had time to really reflect or pinch ourselves over what we’ve achieved. It’s a remarkable achievement that we’re sitting here today ahead of Saturday’s game,” he continued.
“It’s hard because you keep preparing for the next challenge and you keep moving forward, but I’m sure one day we’ll sit down with the players and staff in the future and look back and have a beer together to reflect on a fantastic two years.
“But, now we’ve attained some success we want more, starting on Saturday when we will be showcasing ourselves to the world.”
The Wanderers arrive in Rabat in the middle of an exhaustive schedule which could see them play as many as 48 games this season, a far cry from the 29 they played in each of their first two campaigns.
And Popovic told Goal their relentless calendar could well give the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) plenty of food for thought.
“The schedule is pressing and is a result of our success. Nobody in Australia has had the success we’ve had, so they haven’t had the congestion in the schedule that we’ve had. That’s something new for the FFA and something new for football.
“The more success Australian clubs have, I’m sure looking forward there will be opportunities to have more space set aside between games. But for now, that’s not the case and we just have to deal with our situation the best we can. We’re dealing with it well so far and that’s why we’re here.”