Tony Popovic’s stunning axing by Greek Super League 2's Xanthi has left the club’s sizeable foreign contingent - including five Aussies and a Kiwi - concerned for their own futures.
Hand-picked by Popovic to fly the Antipodean flag at the club owned by Sydney-based tycoon Bill Papas, the long-term prospects of former A-League stars Josh Brillante, Paul Izzo, Matt Jurman and Callan Elliott suddenly appear less clear.
Particularly at risk, in the light of their father’s dismissal after just nine games, are the contracts of sons Kristian and Gabriel, whom he brought with him from Perth Glory back in October.
Not to mention 12 other arrivals from across Europe in a truly multi-national squad.
Xanthi’s imports were “shocked” yesterday when told of Popovic’s sacking, with one of his Greek assistants to take charge for the weekend visit to Panachaiki.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of Poppa’s overseas contingent told The World Game: “Of course we have contracts but we’re not sure how all this (upheaval) is going to affect us.
“For now, we just have to dig in, do our jobs and try and get that next training session under our belts and prepare for the next game.
“Considering where we are in the table (fifth), you have to say it’s come as a bit of a shock.
“Especially when you factor in that we have a game in hand over three of the teams above us.
“But, I guess, nothing should surprise you in football.
“Whilst we feel for Poppa and believe he was helping the team, we have to get on with things and keep working hard to get the club promoted.”
Papas provided a brief statement confirming Popovic’s exit on the club’s website.
He was contacted for clarification on the futures of the remaining A-League signings, and the roadmap ahead for the club he planned to turn into a European development hub for Australian talent.
Popovic’s assistant Zeljko Kalac was let go at the beginning of February, whilst the future of another Aussie coach, Arthur Diles, is uncertain.
“You hear things about Greece being a tough place for coaches - somewhere where maybe they don’t get a lot of time,” the player added.
“I suppose you could say we’ve now seen that first hand.
“This is football - unexpected things happen that are outside our control.
“It’s all a bit disappointing. I don’t think we’re in a bad position in terms of our displays this season (Xanthi are four points off leaders Ergotelis).
Reports in Greece suggest Popovic’s pragmatic, no-frills style didn’t tickle the palates of supporters expecting to bounce straight back to the top tier with a flourish after last season’s demotion.
“We don’t know why the decision has been made - maybe they expected us to win every game 5-0,” queried the player.
“But you have to remember it’s a new team and it can take time to gel.
“Despite what some people might think, the Greek Super League 2 is a tough, hard division where teams give very little away, defend deep and scrap for every point.
“I don’t think a lot of people appreciate that.”