Alexandar Popovic has impressed Adelaide United coach Carl Veart and the young defender is only getting started.
Carl Veart played alongside first-class defenders in the defunct national soccer league but now he’s uncovered a potential gem as coach of Adelaide United.
Since making his debut against Western Sydney in February, Alexandar Popovic’s rise under Veart has been impressive.
Veart has described the 20-year-old centre back as a true defender.
It’s an art form the ex-Socceroos attacker had been accustomed to during the halcyon days of Adelaide City, when teammates like Milan Ivanovic and legendary national team captain Alex Tobin became the most feared stoppers in Australia.
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“Alex (Popovic), I have known for a very long time, and he just needs games,’’ Veart said.
“In the last two or three years, he’s had a bad run of injuries, a bad run of concussions as well and he needs to get more game time, more minutes in his legs.
“He’s a quality young defender and all the way through his youth career he’s one of the best defenders I have ever seen in youth football.
“Just his defensive work and his organisation and we’re starting to see that blossom.”
Popovic has played six times this season.
Adelaide kept four clean sheets in the lead up to the finals with the tall defender at the back.
Popovic is rarely flustered and remains calm in the most delicate situations.
Veart sees this trait as unique as the development focus of late across the land appeared to be focused on producing a glut of wingers more than any other position on the pitch.
“We went down a path with the national curriculum where we wanted to develop more attacking players and more players that could play football,’’ Veart said.
“And the art of defending, heading the ball, being strong in one-v-one (situations) went aside a little bit.
“So, it’s pleasing to have a young defender that’s coming in and doing so well.
“It’s still early days, he’s still got to get his body right and be able to back up and play and maybe now it’s the longest run of games he’s put together over the last three or four years.”
With veteran Michael Jakobsen destined to return to full fitness and George Timotheou and Jacob Tratt also in the mix for the next game, Popovic could be hard to dislodge from the starting 11 when the Reds host Western United on Sunday.
A win over John Aloisi’s side would see Adelaide end its regular season in fourth spot and host an elimination final.