This is the third part of our five article series charting the remarkable inside story of Ange Postecoglou's little-heralded first spell in European football with Panachaiki in Greece. 

FABIAN Caballero is still remembered with great affection by Dundee fans for his heroics up front during the five years which he spent at Dens Park in the early 2000s. 

The first-half double which the Argentinian striker scored in a 2-0 win over Celtic at Parkhead – a result which remains the Tayside outfit’s last triumph over their Glasgow rivals either home or away 22 years on - at the end of his debut season endeared him to Dark Blues diehards for life.

Yet, Caballero, who was dubbed MacCaballero by adoring supporters, looks back his short spell playing under the Scottish champions’ current manager Ange Postecoglou in Greece with exactly the same fondness.

He had just finished a stint with Provincial Osorno in Chile in the summer of 2008 when his agent was contacted by a representative of Panachaiki. A deal was quickly agreed and soon he was on his travels once again. He would have no regrets about making the move.

Speaking through a Spanish interpreter from his home in Paraguay earlier this week, Caballero confessed that he had loved the attacking style of play which Postecoglou demanded that his team play.

READ PART 1 HEREInside Ange Postecoglou's dramatic spell in Greece

He also stressed that he has not been at all surprised at the success which his old gaffer – whose appointment by Celtic in 2021 was ridiculed by many at the time - has presided over in this country in the past two years after his experiences in Patras. 

The Herald:

“Yes, I was with Ange in Greece in Panachaiki in the 2008/2009 season,” he said. “I was there for about a year, but I think our time together only lasted about five months. He left the club in December.

“That was due to a problem which he had with the club owner I believe (there is more about that episode in the fourth instalment of Ange’s Odyssey tomorrow). The president was Australian and then another president from Greece replaced him. But the truth is that with me he was a great manager.

“I saw first hand that he is a great coach when I was in Greece. He worked very well, especially in the offensive part of the game. But he was very strict. He loved the offensive defensive side of the game and the offensive part. All the games I played under him we won. I thought he was great.

“I think Ange, aside from being a good coach, signs great players too. When I was at Panachaiki I had a lot of great team mates. The offensive players we had in the team especially were very good.”

Caballero continued: “It makes me very happy to see Ange at such a big club like Celtic. I don’t follow Scottish football much nowadays, but I do know that he is there and is doing a very good job at a club that a lot of managers want to be at.

“I think he’s a manager who gets better with every passing year. What he is doing now with Celtic is even better than what he did in Greece. Celtic are a big club with a lot of pressure. But I think he is doing everything right and deserves it. I’d like the chance to greet him personally and congratulate him for the position he now finds himself in.”

The instant impact that Caballero and the others who joined that summer made showed that Postecoglou – who had previously worked in Australian club football with South Melbourne as well as with the Australian Under-17 and Under-20 teams – had the ability to unearth talent for an affordable price in the international transfer market.

That is, as Celtic fans have witnessed, a skill which he still possesses in abundance. He has made some exceptional signings in the past two years. Very few arrivals have failed to pass muster. 

But Postecoglou still had to fit his new acquisitions and his existing players into a system which was effective in Greek football. He duly did so.

Peter Cklamovski, his long-time associate who worked as his assistant in his second season at Panachaiki, believes the fruitful spell underlined to the Greek-Australian that the formation and game plan which he favours and now utilises to such effect at Celtic would work anywhere.

READ PART 2 HEREPostecoglou in Greece: 'Culture shock' over intense methods and clueless owner

“We used a version of 4-3-3,” he said. “Over my 15 year journey with Ange, he hasn’t wavered on his belief and intent. He was always pushing hard on how he wants his teams to play, was always encouraging his players to play with tempo, intensity and a ruthless edge in their mentality.

“That was true in Greece, it was true in Japan (when the pair were together at Yokohama F Marinos) and it was true when we were with Australia and played world champions Germany twice. His mantra will never change. The DNA of his football will never change. And he will never stop evolving.”

Postecoglou was also not afraid to promote youngsters to his Panachaiki team. Some proved unable to rise to the challenge. But many others flourished. The most notable success was a slight local 17-year-old called Andreas Samaris.

The promising defensive midfielder went from strength to strength after being handed an extended run in the first team. He represented the Greek national team on 39 occasions and made a €10m move to Benfica in Portugal in 2014. 

“There was some good young talent there definitely,” said Cklamovski. “Andreas was a really good prospect in Greek football at the time and Ange kind of gave him his opportunity. But I think the environment we created helped him so much.

“It doesn’t matter what age a player is, the environment Ange creates gets the best out of every player, whether they are a teenager or a veteran coming to the end of their career. The objective is always the same for everyone – have the best season of your career now.

“But it has been great to follow Andreas’s career and see him reach the level he has. A few years ago now Australia played Greece twice in international friendlies and it was nice to see him again. It was a nice rendezvous for Ange and I. Andreas was in tears. The emotion he showed was typical of so many at Panachaiki. In fact, it was mirrored across the board.

“Times it by 30 odd players and staff. It was a really special group. It just goes to show how good Ange is. Ange is brilliant, mate. He got that team together, galvanised. He had super connection with the group, they had super mentality. There was nothing to stop us.”

The Herald:

The Panachaiki side that Postecoglou assembled for the 2008/09 season took the Southern Group of the Gamma Ethniki by storm despite the occasionally underhand tactics which their opponents resorted to. 

“The style of football in Greece was completely different to what we had been used to,” said Cklamovski. It was a slower style, a more subdued style, a more conservative style. And therein lay an opportunity for us. 

“We are the complete opposite. We are foot to the floor from the first second to the last second. Try and stop us. Teams in Greece don’t want to play that way. They will try to kill the game. They will have the grass grown long on the pitch. They will do whatever they can to slow you down. On the field and off the field.

“They try to beat you in different ways. Sometimes it wasn’t on the field with their men playing better football than our men. They couldn’t keep up with us, couldn’t stop us. They had to find other ways, other tricks. The tempo was slow and we were fitter, hungrier, more aggressive.

“There was a little gamesmanship, nothing out of the ordinary. They would come out for kick-off late. The grass was grown long. The opposition fans were very volatile, which we loved. You had to, how shall I put this, be careful with the referee sometimes as well. That is a part of Greek football as well.

“It was completely different from the football that Ange and I had grown up with in Australia. But we were flying. Nothing could stop us.”

The new-look Panachaiki recorded some impressive results playing their revolutionary brand of “Angeball”; Agia Paraskevi, Agios Dimitrios, Aiolikos, Atsalenios, Haidari, Hersonissos, Egaleo, Fostiras, Kerqavnos, Koropi, Neos Astera Rethymno, Panargiakos and Vyzas were all overcome with ease that season.

The team quickly romped to the top of the table. The fans responded by coming out in large numbers to cheer on their resurgent heroes. A longed-for promotion and a significant step towards the top flight of the Greek game seemed a certainty and Patras was abuzz.

“I loved that time,” said Cklamovski. “Winning in Greece is everything for the supporters. That is what European football is all about. But it suited us down to the ground. The away fans tried to put you off your game by threatening you. That might rattle some players mentally. But that is the passion the fans have.

“If you are not getting results it is not such a nice place to be. It is not nice to come home or be around the town if you are not getting results because everyone’s happiness depends on it. But when you do get results you are on top of the world, you have a top week ahead until the next game comes. It was beautiful, we loved it.”

It took an unprecedented global crisis, the worst riots in Greece in generations and the sudden arrival of a controversial new owner to bring a premature end of Ange Postecoglou’s time with Panachaiki.


The story of Ange Postecoglou's dramatic spell in Greece continues tomorrow.