This is the final 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. 

SINCE moving into management three years ago, Peter Cklamovski has overseen some improbable successes against all the odds and built up quite a reputation for himself.

The Australian coach with Macedonian heritage took over struggling J2 League outfit Montedio Yamagata in Japan back in 2021 when they were teetering on the brink of relegation.

He steered “The Eagle Bees” to safety and then the following season, after abandoning their traditional defensive approach and introducing an attack-oriented style of play, led them into the end-of-season play-offs.

They only missed out on what was described locally as a “miracle promotion” because Roasso Kumamoto, who they drew 2-2 with in the second-round, had finished higher up the table during the regular season. No extra-time or penalty shoot-outs in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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

Cklamovski is, with the highest points per game average and highest win percentage of anyone to ever occupy the dugout at the ND Soft Stadium, now widely considered to be the best manager in Yamagata’s entire history.

Their directors, who banked record transfer fees from selling the players he brought through and developed, certainly appreciated his efforts.

The time which he spent working as the assistant to current Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou at Panachaiki, Australia and Yokohama F Marinos has clearly proved invaluable to him. But he has drawn on the experiences he had at the former especially. He has no doubt that his friend and mentor has as well.

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Both men were devastated when they had, due to the interference of a controversial new owner whose sudden arrival sparked a full-scale riot among angry supporters, to call time on their spell in Greece at the end of 2008 when they were riding high in the Southern Group of the Gamma Ethniki and looking set to take a significant step back to the top flight.

“When we left we were a point off the top of the league and I couldn’t see anything stopping us,” said Cklamovski. “It was part of the disappointment for both of us. We were there to achieve something.

“It was our hope that’s for sure. That is how Ange looks at things. He is a builder, he likes to build things. We have spoken about this many, many times. We got in to Panachaiki with a fair bit of work to do. But that was the opportunity in front of us, to get better and win promotion.

“If you do that, the whole city gets excited, more sponsorship comes in, owners get a bit more involved, there is a bit more of a budget there for you to work with and you can try and get back into the top flight.

“That is the vision we had, that was what we were working towards, dreaming of if you like. We were definitely doing some good work and on the right track. We were in a position to do that. Then the ownership change came, Ange made his decision to leave and I swiftly followed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.”

READ PART 2 HEREAnge Postecoglou in Greece: 'Culture shock' over intense methods

Yet, Postecoglou took his managerial career to a new level when he returned from the country of his birth to his adopted homeland and has since picked up the silverware he was unable to land at Panachaiki with Brisbane Roar, Australia, Yokohama and, of course, Celtic.

Greg Gavalas, who has written about Greek and Australian football for publications around the world for the past 20 years, interviewed his compatriot about his time in Patras when he got back Down Under and expected him to be scathing about it given how things ended. Exactly the opposite was true.

“I was very keen to hear his thoughts about Panachaiki and find out what had happened because of my Greek background,” he said. “I spoke to him at length about it.

“I was a bit surprised when he told me how much he had enjoyed his time there and how invaluable he felt it had been. I was kind of expecting a different reaction. But he absolutely loved it.

“It was his first insight into coaching in Europe. He enjoyed working overseas. He loved going back to his homeland and the lifestyle there. It was an invigorating experience for him.

“His team played really well. That probably made it even sweeter for him, increased his enjoyment. Who knows what they could have done if everything had been what it should have been off the park? I think promotion would have been the least they could have achieved.

“I think it probably gave him an understanding of how different football can be away from Australia. It helped him to get stronger, to become more resilient. He learned how to deal with some of the different situations you are going to encounter in different countries. He learned about different mindsets and cultures. So it definitely helped him.”

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Gavalas detected a definite change in both Postecoglou’s demeanour and approach to matches thereafter.

“His own mindset got very strong,” he said. “When he came back to Australia he really started focusing on the mentality of the team that he had. All of his teams thereafter had this real winning mentality. They would never give up. They fought to the very end in all of their games regardless of what the scoreline was.

“They also played really attractive football as well. It was very evident when he came back and it has stuck with him to this day. Don’t get me wrong, South Melbourne played some decent football when he was there. But it was always very much based on a strong defence.

“When he came back his sides played a real pressing game and focused on producing some nice attacking football that was effective and got some really positive results.”

READ PART 3 HEREPostecoglou in Greece: How Ange overcame dirty tactics and dodgy refs

If Postecoglou’s charges beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden this afternoon and complete a world record eighth domestic treble it will be the fifth trophy he has lifted in Scotland. Is it any wonder that he has emerged as the leading contender for the Spurs vacancy?

Cklamovski is adamant that the Panachaiki stint – where he quickly adapted to a different style of football, introduced an intense and attacking game plan, promoted youngsters to the first team, unearthed decent talent for affordable prices in the international transfer market and dealt with the high expectations of passionate supporters – has been invaluable to his old associate at Celtic.  

“It was an exciting chapter which we have really special memories reflecting on,” he said. “It is 15 years ago, a long time ago. But if we see any of those players and staff ever again it was be so emotional, it will be like we never left. It was such a special time for us.

“Without a doubt, it improved us. I have the same approach every day no matter where I am and what level I am at. But that was a helluva experience for me. For sure, I used every moment to get better in whatever I do.

“I don’t speak Greek, but I was trying to catch key words early on just so I could communicate with the players on the field. Slowly, slowly, I was starting to communicate quite well with them on the field from a coaching perspective. That is an important part of adapting to their culture.

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“I took plenty from it. Different culture, different language. These are the learnings that you take with you and put in the tool box of becoming an even better coach. You can do it in any country, do it in any environment, do it with anything you have got, and have the mentality you need to achieve it.”

READ PART 4 HEREPostecoglou in Greece: When mass riots hit Ange's 'unstoppable' side

Cklamovski added: “I would say that Ange’s experiences in Greece with Panachaiki have helped him in Scotland with Celtic. Every aspect of our journey has helped us be who we are. So, without a doubt, 100 per cent, being at Panachiaki has benefitted Ange and helped him to become the manager he is today. Me as well, for sure.

“I believe in what Ange creates and the football his teams play. It is built for success. When you can get the key pillars in place and are executing on a daily basis it is hard to stop. That has been proven over time.

“Every piece of our journey has an importance. It is all about how you develop and become a better version of yourself. Ange is achieving greatness. I truly believe he is great and have believed that for 20 years now. I saw that as a young coach learning off him. Now he is proving that to the world.

“There have been some serious hardships in his career. Not many people talk about them too much now, maybe they have forgotten them. But those are the moments where greatness comes from.

“Everything he has gone through has made him who he is now. Every experience makes you a better manager, a better father, a better husband, a better everything. I truly believe the Panachaiki chapter has influenced him.”

Ange Postecoglou certainly made an indelible impression on the people of Patras. Panachaiki have been through a succession of managers since he departed. Despite being under new ownership, they have never been able to clinch the return to the Super League they yearn for.

Vaggelis Gerogiannis, a journalist with local newspaper Peloponnisos, reveals their supporters still remember his brief but uplifting tenure with fondness and remain grateful for the joy and hope he gave them 15 years on.

“The fans loved him,” said Gerogiannis. “They were very sad when he left. Even today, they follow the career of Postecoglou at Celtic. They are happy for him.”

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