Popa pays tribute to Santalab


Tony Popovic has paid tribute to Brendon Santalab after the prolific striker confirmed his intention to retire at the end of the current campaign.

The duo had worked together at Sydney United, Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers prior to being reunited at Glory this year.

And it was during Wanderers’ historic Asian Champions League Final appearance that an episode took place which Popovic feels epitomises Santalab as both a person and a player.

“We’ve known each other a long time, going all the way back to Sydney United,” Glory’s Head Coach explained.

“When he was at Sydney FC, I was his captain, so we’ve had a lot of history together and he probably changed as a person. He was obviously younger then, so it was all about Brendon Santalab and as he got older, when he came back to Wanderers, he’d changed.

“I remember the first month of training at Wanderers when he’d come from playing in China and he said to me that he didn’t think he could handle the training.

“I told him he’d be fine and that he’d get through it and he did, so it’s no surprise to me that he’s still playing now at the age of 36.

“He’s extended his career due to his will to win and the way he’s looked after his body and I’m sure he’s got a lot more out of himself than he expected at that time when he came back to Australia from China.

“In terms of him playing, the one thing that stands out, which I’ll forever be grateful for, is what he did in the Asian Champions League Final.

“He dislocated his shoulder in the first half of the first leg and you could see the pain in his face throughout the first half.

Brendon Santalab dislocates shoulder in ACL Final

“But we had a lot of injuries, a lot of players out and we needed Santa to play a role for us.

“He was in a huge amount of pain at half time, but continued on for another ten or 15 minutes and then came off.

“We realised that he’d ultimately need surgery on the shoulder, but we were playing the second leg in Saudi Arabia a week later.

“There was a refusal from both him and me to accept that he would not play in this final and he went out there and gave us 60 minutes in the second leg.

“But prior to that, I remember walking down the tunnel because the coaches had to walk out first in the Asian Champions League.

“As I walked down the stairs, I passed him and he had tears in his eyes due to the pain that he was in from the shoulder.

“I remember walking past and just turning to him and saying “thank you”.

“That has stuck with me as the best way to describe Santa as a person and as a player.

“We’ll share that memory forever and I’ll always be grateful to him for doing what he did.

“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him as a player and even more as a person.”