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Western Sydney Wanderers striker Mark Bridge doesn't want to lose coach Tony Popovic but says it's inevitable that he'll one day go on to coach the Socceroos.
The 40-year old is considered one of the three local leading candidates to take the job left vacant after Holger Osieck was fired following back-to-back 6-0 losses to Brazil and France.
Perhaps considered an outsider behind Graham Arnold and Ange Postecoglou, Popovic has plenty of admirers for making the Wanderers competitive in such a short space of time last season – a similar situation faced by the Socceroos heading into Brazil 2014.
While Bridge says the team haven't discussed losing their boss this time, he reckons Popovic will surely manage the national team one day.
“To be honest we haven't even spoken about it, but of course we don't want to lose him,” Bridge said after training at Blacktown on Tuesday. “Look what he did last season for all of us; not only us but for the club as well. He's a great coach and a great man and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before he does get that job.”
Capped twice for the Socceroos and friends with many players in the current squad, Bridge said it was hard to gauge whether national captain Lucas Neill was right to question the passion of younger players for representing their country.
“Look, everyone is entitled to their opinion. The Socceroos are in a hard place at the moment with two heavy losses, and Lucas can say that, but I can't speak for all the young guys in Australia,” he said.
“They were very heavy defeats and probably not the best performances that we've seen over the past couple of years but I think people are forgetting it was Brazil and France. Brazil are probably favourites to win the World Cup. Although it's 6-0, 6-0 they're still two of the best teams in the world. It's disappointing, but that's football.”
Closer to home, there was surprise that one potential World Cup bolter, Tomi Juric, didn't start for the Wanderers in their grand final rematch against Central Coast in Gosford last Saturday night.
Equally surprising was the omission of Shinji Ono, sparking fears Ono was battling the same soft-tissue injuries that have plagued him in recent years. However, Bridge said they were both fine and that Ono in particular was being managed with a view to the season ahead.
“He was fully fit last week. The coaches have a plan when they select the team and every week changes with different tactics,” he said. “It's a long year and we've got the Asian Champions League as well and Shinji is a very important player in our team, so I think he's being rapt in cotton wool.”
Another new striker, Brendon Santalab, also began on the bench for the Wanderers, with Bridge saying it demonstrated how deep the club's depth had become.
“It's good – you need depth, especially with the Champions League coming up. There will be injuries and fatigue will set in around Christmas time, so you want a strong squad, not only for replacements but for starting places,” he said. “We've got a very good squad and it's going to keep everyone on their toes.”
Defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley reckoned what he'd seen of Wellington Phoenix – who travel to face Western Sydney at Parramatta Stadium on Sunday – meant the Wanderers couldn't afford to let their guard down.
“I didn't watch their full game [Wellington lost 2-1 to Brisbane] but I've seen a few clips and they were quite a pressing team and very physical, especially in that first half,” he said. “They've got some quality – like Carlos Hernandez – who can create something out of nothing. We'll have to be on our toes but we are every week and that's what we'll prepare for.”
Topor-Stanley confirmed he and Bridge had engaged in a cheeky bet regarding their impressive beard lengths, saying the first one to reach for the razor would have to buy the other coffee for a year.