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(Reuters) - Tony Popovic is no stranger to building a successful football team, but even he accepts the challenge facing him at Melbourne Victory will be among the toughest of his coaching career.
The former Crystal Palace and Australia defender took over as head coach at the four-time A-League champions on July 1 after the club ended the 2020/21 season at the bottom of the 12-team standings for the first time.
Victory's pain was made all the more acute as cross-town rivals Melbourne City won their maiden A-League championship.
"Victory, I think, in (the) current climate, is probably the biggest challenge," Popovic told The Age newspaper.
For a man who steered Western Sydney Wanderers from inauguration to the Asian Champions League title in 2014 before taking serial underachievers Perth Glory to the A-League Grand Final in 2019, the task should not be insurmountable.
But the 48-year-old readily admits lifting Victory out of their current slump will be his hardest so far.
"This club has just finished second last and last in the last two years," Popovic said.
"You could argue that the only way is up, but getting to the top is a long way from where the club was positioned. But I don't believe we should set any limits on what we can achieve."
Popovic has already overseen a significant revamp of the squad, bringing in Australia internationals Matthew Spiranovic, Jason Davidson, Chris Ikonomidis and Josh Brillante.
Additionally, Robbie Kruse and Leigh Broxham have been given new contracts.
"We have brought in players that understand what it takes to win - players who can handle the pressure of a big club, players who want to achieve more than they already have," Popovic said.
Popovic will need all of that knowledge and ability if he wants to turn Victory into a force that can reclaim the club's previous glory.
Victory won just five of their 26 A-League games last year and finished 30 points behind table-toppers Melbourne City.
A more realistic immediate goal, however, will be to close the 20-point gap that separated Victory and sixth-placed Macarthur FC, who took the last of the places available in the championship playoffs.
"We want to play in a dynamic way. We want to be quicker with and without the ball, so our fitness levels need to be high," Popovic said.
"Our technical and tactical levels need to be of the highest order to compete with the teams that have been at the top in the last couple of years."
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Sonali Paul)