Popa’s press conference interruption gives insight into Victory plans after Fornaroli praise

Check out the highlights from a thrilling edition of the Original Rivalry with Adelaide United travelling to AAMI Park to take on the high-flying Melbourne Victory in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Wording is important, just ask Tony Popovic after he addressed speculation around Melbourne Victory’s transfer plans in the absence of AFC Asian Cup-bound Bruno Fornaroli.

In his final Isuzu UTE A-League match before linking up with the Socceroos for the Asian Cup in Qatar, Fornaroli signed off with a goal in Victory’s 2-0 win over Adelaide United in Saturday night’s Original Rivalry.

After Zinedine Machach broke the deadlock in the 73rd minute, Golden Boot leader Fornaroli sealed the triumph in the final minute of regulation at AAMI Park.

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Victory are unbeaten, but they are facing the prospect of being without their talisman for up to six matches as the Socceroos prepare to kick-off their Asian Cup campaign against India on January 13.

In the aftermath of the Round 10 fixture, one reporter began to ask: “You mentioned recently you’re looking for a replacement for Bruno” before Popovic interrupted.

“No, we’re actually not looking for a replacement,” the head coach clarified.

“We’re just keeping our eyes open if there’s something there. But we’re not actually seeking anyone to be honest. We’re not.”

All eyes were on Fornaroli against Adelaide, not only as the league’s leading goalscorer but as he prepares to return to the international fold with the Socceroos.

Fornaroli entered the contest having scored 18 league goals in 2023, with 12 of those for Victory this season.

He extended that Isuzu UTE A-League-best tally to 13 goals in 2023-24 after striking at the death in Melbourne.

Asked if the goal was a reminder of how hard it will be for Victory to cover Fornaroli’s absence, Popovic replied: “I don’t look at it like that. It’s just a pleasure to watch him play.

“You have to remember when that goal was – it was right at the end of the game. This is a player who was pulled around by their centre-backs and I thought there were some fouls there that he should have got.

“But he continued and continued and word extremely hard. He was a real link in our play.

“You’re cutting in onto your weaker foot, fatigue… it just shows the shape he is and also how much clarity he has in his mind, and belief.

“We just want him to take that now with the Socceroos and we have to keep going. We have three tough away games now. It doesn’t get easier.

“We have to continue with this approach and know there’s a difficult road ahead.”

Popovic is a former Socceroo, having amassed 58 international appearances for Australia.

He represented the Socceroos at the 2006 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Germany. So, has Popovic had any advice for Fornaroli – who debuted in March last year.

“He’s already had his debut which no one really expected. He’s had that,” said Popovic.

“There is a mutual understanding of what this really means for a footballer to represent you country. He knows we respect what he’s done here and we respect the fact he’s going to the national team.

“We will cover his absence and we will continue on. We will certainly be supporting him and cheering him and wanting him to play and score. He knows exactly how we feel about what he’s achieving.”