Tony Popovic is forging a reputation as one of Australia’s best soccer coaches.

He has a clear ethos and vision and knows how to achieve success at Perth Glory.

But the Midas touch has not come overnight for “Popa”.

The decorated Socceroo defender first stepped into coaching as an assistant at Sydney FC when he took off the boots in 2008 after 19 years as a player.

But the foundation for that move was laid at English club Crystal Palace where Popovic made 123 appearances from 2001 to 2006 and where he struck a long-standing friendship with Dougie Freedman, a legend of 330 games for the Eagles.

The pair began their coaching courses together there in 2003-04. And five years after leaving Palace, Popovic received an SOS from newly appointed manager Freedman asking him to help save the club from English Premier League relegation.

“I picked up the phone and said ‘Tony I need your help,’” said Freedman, now Palace sporting director.

“We were in a very difficult position, bottom of the league with half the season to play.

“There was only one guy I wanted to help me, not just because he had been a teammate, but because I had trust.

“I knew Tony was not afraid to speak his mind and has very strong opinions. I knew he would challenge my decisions.

“He spoke to his wife, spoke to Sydney, packed his bag and got on a flight.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge, we had our moments but we stayed up. It was fantastic.

“He didn’t always get his way but if he didn’t agree you wouldn’t get a bulls... answer.”

Popovic stayed on at Palace for one more season before heading to Western Sydney Wanderers, winning the Premiers’ Plate in their maiden season and the Asian Champions League title the following year.

“When he told me he was leaving it took me five seconds to put my hand out, shake his hand and say thanks from the club and me. It was simple respect,” Freedman said. “I didn’t try and convince him otherwise. He’s very much his own man when it comes to things like that.”

Freedman identifies the 2006 World Cup as pivotal to the career of Popovic, then aged 32.

“That was when Popa actually changed his mentality from being a very good professional to one of the best I have known,” he said.

“He was always single-minded but you could sense his mindset changing.

“He was getting a little bit older, as we all were, and he began to dedicate himself to his diet, his training methods, his rest and sleep patterns.

“He was at his peak but at the same time thinking of moving to coaching ... looking at the end game.”

Popovic has a reputation for detail and for copious note-taking.

“When we went for our coaches badges, trust me, that’s when the note-taking started. I’ve still probably got some of the notes,” Freedman said.

“Don’t think this has all come together in a couple of years.”

Popovic captained Palace and was with Freedman in the side that won promotion to the EPL in 2004 with a play-off final victory over West Ham.

They dropped out of the top tier the following season and Popovic moved to Al-Arabi in Qatar and then to Sydney FC, first as a player and then as assistant coach.

Popovic does not demonstrate too many public emotions. He has a customary smirk and a quick half-smile, and when the shutters fall over his eyes it is a giveaway that he has already moved on.

“When you get that look, you know he’s thinking somewhere else,” Freedman said. “I also know the face when he gets beaten. He will shake your hand but he would be hurting inside.

“As a player Tony was self-assured. He’s had a few bangs and a few low blows but his personality has always been not to show anything.

“If he was brought down, he would just get up and get on with it.

“If anyone dropped him (on the pitch) ... one of those glares was enough to tell you not to go there again.

“He carried that into his coaching. He protects his players and his football club.

“He is very demanding. With his size you really don’t want to be arguing with him, but he is a fantastic motivator.

“He must be mixed up in the national coaching job whenever that comes up.

“Wherever he is, the way he’s going, Australian football needs to go to Tony Popovic.”