Melbourne Victory caretaker coach Steve Kean has labelled Tony Popovic as "out of order" and "unprofessional" after learning that Victory's incoming head coach had begun the process of culling the club's 2021-22 squad without informing him.
Popovic signed a three-year deal to take over at Victory in late April, just five days after the club had axed Grant Brebner following a 7-0 thumping at the hands of Melbourne City.
The former Western Sydney Wanderers and Perth Glory coach's deal is not set to commence until July, however, and Brebner's assistant Kean was appointed as caretaker until the conclusion of the 2020-21 campaign.
Both Kean and club chairman Anthony Di Pietro subsequently declared that players were auditioning for their future in a Victory shirt throughout the rest of the season.
The former, however, was blindsided during the lead in to Victory's game against Macarthur FC on Thursday with the news that some players had already been informed without his knowledge that they were surplus to requirements next season.
"I actually tried to ring [Popovic] yesterday but he never picked up," Kean said on Wednesday.
"I believe behind the scenes he's been speaking with players about next season, which, to be honest, I thought was out of order.
"I thought I deserved the respect for him to call me and say that he was speaking with players. He's never done that, so that's very, very disappointing.
"I mentioned that to the players. I think they thought that I knew about the process, which I wasn't in the loop [for]. That's very disappointing.
"I think Tony should have taken the time to phone me, but he didn't. But there you go."
Popovic has been given a wide-ranging remit to shape Victory as he sees fit for his attempt to rebuild the fallen A-League giants, although Kean last week did assert some independence when telling journalists that he retained control of squad selection, minutes allocation, and the provision of opportunities for youth until the end of the campaign.
He confirmed on Wednesday that his assistant Jean-Paul de Marigny was also in the dark surrounding communication between Popovic and players, and it's understood that ignorance extended to much, if not all, of the rest of the A-League staff.
"Everybody is aware of my feelings," Kean said. "The players are aware. The chairman and the board are aware. I'll get on and be professional.
"I thought [Popovic] was unprofessional in not mentioning it to me.
"But people work in different ways and that was very disappointing.
"JP [de Marigny] never knew, I never knew.
"It's difficult when players that have been contacted come to you and say that they're not required next year and we don't know about it.
"That's a difficult situation that I've had to manage for the last 24 hours.
"I don't know [how many players have been told], that's just a thing that now the club will take up and we'll just try to focus on what we can do, which is getting the players ready for each of the remaining games and trying to win as many points as we can.
"Only one player came to me and said that he was contacted and I didn't know about it. So that's disappointing."
Employing a more cautious style, Victory have beaten Western Sydney, lost narrowly to Sydney FC, and held Central Coast Mariners to a 1-1 draw in the games for which the former Blackburn Rovers boss has been in charge in 2020-21.