Matthew Lindsay has spent weeks researching Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou's little-investigated, previous spell in Europe at Greek side Panachaiki. In an exclusive, five-part series, he details the Australian's first managerial job in Europe and how it helped form the man who is on the brink of winning Celtic's historic eighth treble.

Barely a week has gone by in the past season without Ange Postecoglou being linked with a vacancy at a Premier League club down in England.

The Celtic manager has been installed among the bookmakers’ favourites to take over at Aston Villa, Brighton, Chelsea, Leeds United and Southampton during the past 10 months.

As he prepares for the Scottish Cup final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Hampden on Saturday evening, speculation about him joining Spurs this summer abounds.

The Greek-Australian is, as a result of the success he has enjoyed during the two seasons which he has spent in Scotland and the attractive football his team has played in is time here, a hot property and then some.

It is a far cry from where he found himself back in 2008 after being sacked as manager of the national age-group sides in his adopted homeland.

As he looked back on in his spell in the “wilderness” in his book Changing the Game: Football in Australia Through My Eyes, he wrote: “I was, apparently, unemployable. It seemed like my reputation was in tatters.”

His seven year spell in charge of both the under-17 and under 20 teams had ended in acrimonious circumstances the year before after he failed to qualify for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Canada.

The Herald:

Postecoglou felt the difficulties of moving from the Oceania to the Asian Football Confederation – a switch that had only taken place in 2006 – had been completely overlooked by the public, the media and the football authorities.

He had been instantly struck by the “cavernous differences” in investment, fitness and technique. The deficiencies in the Australian youth development system, which he had long been aware of and exasperated by, were cruelly exposed.

However, disappointing results against China, Laos and South Korea drew a furious backlash and he ultimately paid the price.

His infamous spat with former Socceroos player Craig Foster live on national television – a rammy that has since become a bit of a Your Tube classic – highlighted the ill-feeling there was towards him Down Under around that time.

Peter Cklamovski, an Australian coach and manager of Macedonian heritage who worked alongside Postecoglou at the under-17 and under-20 teams and was later his assistant during his stints with Australia and Yokohama F Marinos, saw what he went through at close quarters.

“It was in a tough moment for Ange,” he said. “I am not sure how to say this the right way or in a nice way, but he was got getting respected in Australia the way he should have been. He couldn’t get jobs.”

Greg Gavalas, who has covered Greek and Australian football for publications across the world for the past 20 years, believed that Postecoglou had a valid point and was also dismayed by the vicious criticism that he was subjected to.

“They were really harsh on him over here,” he said. “Ironically, when he was coaching the senior national team here years after that, a little bit of that antipathy remained in the media despite the results he enjoyed.

“But he was 100 per cent correct. We have a funny way of developing players in Australia. They follow a robotic system. There has been a lot of calls over the years for coaches to focus more on technique and allow players to be creative. We aren’t creating enough skilful players. As I say, it is very robotic. Even today, his argument still stands.”

Postecolgou found, much to his frustration, that no openings were available to him in the newly-formed A-League. He picked up work as a pundit with Fox Sports and was grateful for the income that provided. But he retained a strong belief in his coaching abilities and remained determined to stay involved in coaching at a high level. 

He started putting training sessions for his friends’ kids at his local park. He also developed a programme called V-Elite in conjunction with the Football Federation Victoria which was based on Clairefontaine. He had visited the renowned French national football centre in his previous role and had been deeply influenced by what he had seen. 

But the big opportunity which he craved was to come thousands of miles away in the unlikeliest location - and would see him return to his land or his birth nearly four decades after he and his family had emigrated.

The Herald:

Con Makris, the multi-millionaire Victoria businessman who had previously been involved with National Soccer League franchise West Adelaide, had purchased struggling Panachaiki in his native Greece a few years earlier.

Makris had, despite investing sizeable chunks of his personal fortune, struggled to make any tangible progress and had gone through a succession of managers.

He remembered Postecoglou from his days with South Melbourne and approached him to see if he would be interested in taking over. His compatriot needed little persuading to accept a full-time position and get back into the professional game.v

His time at Panachaiki would, despite being brief and occasionally turbulent, resurrect his career, show that his methods worked overseas, increase his skillset, expose him to both a different style of football and level of scrutiny and pressure, fuel a desire to work in Europe again and provide him with numerous experiences which he has drawn on at Celtic.  

There are certainly many parallels between the challenge that lay ahead of him in the ancient city of Patras in 2008 and the task he took on when he arrived in Glasgow back in 2021.

Stephen Kontourou, a London-born Greek-Cypriot who writes for the Hellas Football website, explained that Panachaiki are very much sleeping giants of the Greek game and have, despite being in the lower leagues for years, heady ambitions because of their storied past.

READ PART 2: Greek 'Culture shock' over intense methods and clueless owner

“Panachiaki are not particularly well known outside of Greece,” he said. “But they actually have a lot of history. They have been around for a very long time. They were formed in 1891 and pre-date AEK Athens, Panathinaikos, Olympiakos and PAOK.

“They are from the city of Patras, which is the third largest city in Greece after Athens and Thessaloniki. From the late 1960s to the early 2000s they were a regular feature in the First Division. They have also won a record six Second Division titles, the most of any Greek club.

“They were also the first Greek club outside of Athens and Thessaloniki to play in Europe. They played in the UEFA Cup in 1973, albeit very briefly.

“They have a big following, a hardcore fan base. They have a 12,000-capacity stadium. Their fans are very passionate. They can switch from being completely behind their team to completely vilifying them. There is a lot to take in with this club.

“I would compare Patras to Berlin in many ways. They have no team that is competing for the German title despite being a major city. Patras should have a club in the Super League. It is the same with Larissa. They are the only team outside of Athens and Thessaloniki to ever win the Greek title. But they are in the second division now.

“There is a lot of mismanagement in Greek football, unfortunately. That is why you see a lot of big clubs like Iraklis, Panachaiki and Larissa in the lower leagues. Some are even way down in the regional leagues.

“Panachaiki ran into financial problems in the early 2000s, were relegated and got stuck in the lower echelons of the game. Con Makris bought the club with aspirations to take them back to the very top.

“But there is a lack of building for the future in Greek football. Everything is about right now, about instant success, about the short-term. They fell as low as the fourth tier. When Ange joined they were still struggling in the third division.”

The Herald:

Still, both owner and manager were excited about what the future held when the new appointment was announced at a packed press conference in the Kostas Davourlis Stadium in the March of 2008.

"It was my dream to bring him to Panachaiki,” said Makris. “I didn't think a technician of his worth would come to the team. He has won everything, having experience and psychology. He is free from me to do whatever he wants. I have asked him to build the team of the future.”

“I had a career in Australia, but my dream was always to come to Greece,” said Postecoglou. “I didn't achieve it as a player, but I achieve it as a coach.

“I don't want to say much, I like to work. It doesn't matter what I have achieved so far, but what I will achieve from now on. All I ask is a little patience until I know the team. I like to take firm and sure steps.

“If I didn't think I could succeed in Panachaki, I wouldn't have come. My philosophy is for the team to get results, because that's what counts, but also to play good football and bring people to the stadium.

“We will play aggressively, we will take risks, we are not afraid. As a player I played for only one team. As a coach I worked in only one team and then for six years in the national teams. I like to stay in one team and build it and not keep changing teams. I don't like to lose, I like to create something that will last for a long time.”

It was a bold and admirable declaration of intent. But the project he was faced with was huge and the difficulties which he was set to encounter both on and off the park myriad. Many others had failed miserably.

His predecessor Ivan Jovanovic, the Yugoslavian who went on to lead Cypriot club APOEL to four Cypriot titles and into the Champions League group stages for the first time and who is now in charge of Panathinaikos, had left after proving unable to deliver the silverware Makris demanded.

Could Postecoglou fare better than those who had gone before him, survive in his new role and prove the people who had written him off back in Australia wrong?

Part two of the epic inside story of Ange's formative spell in Greece continues HERE.