Perth Glory coach Tony Popovic has labelled his players champions despite Sunday's heartbreaking grand final loss to Sydney FC.
Glory lost 4-1 in the penalty shootout after veteran duo Andy Keogh and Brendon Santalab had their shots saved by Sydney goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne.
It meant Popovic has now been to four A-League grand finals as a coach for four losses.
Three of those were during his time with Western Sydney.
But Popovic refused to dwell on his own misfortune after Sunday's loss. Instead, his heart was bleeding for his players.
He wants them to know that they are champions in his eyes.
"I'm proud of everyone at the club. It's been a real pleasure to coach them this year," Popovic said.
"In this country you're deemed the champion if you win a one-off final.
"But there is a group of champions in that room, including the staff and everyone associated with the club.
"We finished first as the best team in the league. We are in the Champions League, we won the Premiers Plate. It was a phenomenal season.
"We couldn't get the icing on the cake. But the players gave everything. In the end it wasn't meant to be."
Glory's transformation under Popovic has been outstanding.
Perth won the Premiers Plate with two games to spare, and had the best defensive and offensive records in the league.
Sydney failed to even fire a shot on target in Sunday's decider.
Glory notched their first piece of A-League silverware this season by winning the Premiers Plate.
But Popovic has even higher goals set for the club.
"We've been a big team this year. The plan is to be a big club, and that takes time," Popovic said.
Glory will be boosted by the arrival of star striker Bruno Fornaroli next season.
And the club will be hopeful of retaining Chris Ikonomidis, who is contracted for two more seasons but is set to attract significant interest from overseas clubs.
Australian Associated Press