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Football, or soccer to use its local colloquialism, may never surpass Aussie strongholds such as AFL, NRL or cricket in popularity terms down under but there is no denying it has grown exponentially in recent years. This has been evidenced by a number of top-grade players progressing to ply their trade in prestigious and lucrative foreign leagues in the likes of the UK, Europe, Japan and the USA.
Australia v China PR - 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier
DOHA, QATAR - SEPTEMBER 02: Tom Rogic of Australia strikes the ball during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Australia and China PR at Khalifa International Stadium on September 02, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)
Progression hasn’t been merely limited to the playing personnel, however, as a number of promising Australian managers and coaches such as Ange Postecoglou, Kevin Muscat and Pete Cklamovski have been making waves of late.
In keeping with this month’s Brilliant theme of ‘Aussie Made’, we take a closer look and profile a couple of these coaches.
Postecoglou unquestionably leads the way and has been very much the trailblazer for aspiring Aussie football coaches for many years. Following a successful playing career in domestic leagues and for the Socceroos national team during the 1980s and 90s, Postecoglou advanced into management. After successful stints with the likes of Brisbane Roar and Melbourne victory, he progressed to take the top job for the national team, managing the Socceroos for a four-year period between 2013-2017.
Socceroos Training Session
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 12: New Socceroos head coach Ange Postecoglou watches players training during an Australian Socceroos training session at WIN Jubilee Stadium on November 12, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
During his tenure, the Socceroos performed admirably in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in a tough group including holders Spain and the Netherlands. They then won their first ever Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup a year later against South Korea.
After securing qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Postecoglou somewhat surprisingly resigned to take up the hotseat at Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan’s J-League. It turned out to be a prudent decision as Postecoglou guided the club to their first J-League title in 15 years, becoming the first Australian manager to win a league title in Japan in the process.
It was, however, Postecoglou’s next move that truly brought him to the attention of a global audience when, in June this year, the then 55-year-old was appointed manager of Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic.
Celtic are one of the most successful, popular and widely respected professional clubs in global sports with an estimated worldwide fan base of close to 10 million people and over 160 supporters clubs in over 20 countries. Steeped in history, their success and influence since their founding in 1887 has been immense and their rivalry with cross-city opponents Glasgow Rangers is one of, if not the most, heated in any international sports encounter.
Since 2011 they Celtic won the domestic Scottish Premiership league title a staggering nine consecutive times, number 10 only being denied by, of course, Rangers. Celtic had a traumatic season in 2020-21 as they were usurped by their rivals and the immediate future seemed bleak.
Postecoglou’s appointment was met with suspicion and derision in equal measure by fans and commentators alike, with only a few die-hards prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt and the one commodity now so often lacking in the game: time.
He got off to a shaky start when the club failed to beat Danish side FC Midtjylland over two-legs in the UEFA Champions League qualifying round.
However, since then and the start of the Scottish League season at the end of July, Postecoglou has over seen a remarkable turnaround in form as his team won seven games on the bounce, playing some of the finest football witnessed at the club in recent years. As FoxSports commented, “the football that’s worked so far has been his trademark stuff; quick, expansive play in a ‘no fear’ approach that looks good on the eyes, and often on the scoresheet.”
Fans have quickly been won over, impressed by how the team have changed and improved under their new manager.
“Early days, but Celtic were a joy to watch - first time in a while. You can see what Ange Postecoglou is trying to implement - it’s potentially exciting,” commented one fan on Twitter.
“I am watching Celtic with a huge smile on my face for the first time in 18 months. God [expletive] bless Ange Postecoglou!” said another.
“It is amazing the transformation that Ange Postecoglou has initiated already. It just shows what can happen when you place a REAL Manager in charge,” said one more.
Writing for the Daily Record, Hugh Keevins summed it up best when he said. “Ange has, in the eyes of the Celtic fans, become not so much a cult hero as a Messianic figure.”
It is still early days but the signs are extremely positive for Postecoglou as he continues to forge a path for aspiring Aussie coaches to follow by becoming the most successful coach the country has ever produced.
One man very much following in Postecoglou’s footsteps is Peter Cklamovski.
Melbourne Victory Training Session
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 28: Peter Cklamovski gives instructions during a Melbourne Victory A-League training session at Gosch's Paddock on March 28, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)
Starting his career as a fitness coach at the likes of Perth Glory, Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory, Cklamovski progressed to assistant manager under Postecoglou and knows his former boss better than most, having operated in his shadow for 16 years, studying his mentor closely, watching, listening and taking notes.
As Postecoglou’s right man during the success at Yokohama F. Marinos, Cklamovski is well known and well liked in Japan, much more so than in his native Australia.
“I’ve definitely got a profile here [Japan] that’s based on what sort of person I am, how I coach and how hard I work,” Cklamovski told the Sun-Herald in an interview last year. “That’s earned respect here,” he added.
As a result, he took on the top job as manager at J-League side Shimizu S-Pulse last year. However, things didn’t work out with the team and Cklamovski struggling as the Sydney-born tactician won just three games out of 25 before leaving in November.
It was a bitter pill to swallow but Cklamovski didn’t hang around or wallow in self-pity. Instead he took on the manager’s role at J-League second tier side Montedio Yamagata in May and has manufactured a stunning turnaround. With the team languishing in 17th place when he arrived, Cklamovski has collected 31 points from a possible 33 to propel the team up the table into fifth place and save a season that looked like an expected relegation battle into a genuine push for promotion.
“There were circumstances last season that would have challenged the best in the world but I am not about to make excuses,” the 42-year-old said in a recent interview with The Guardian.
“Last season provided important lessons that I will cop on the chin to make me a better coach, a better man and better everything.
“I can create something special for the club and the region but we will have to work hard,” he added.
“The first mandate was to dodge relegation. As soon as I got my hands on the squad, I injected everything I had into the sessions and pushed as hard as I could. It is important that we don’t look too far ahead. It is not one game at a time but one day at a time.
“We are playing some really good stuff and we are getting better. There are some areas of growth that we need to keep refining as we go. We are creating chances and the fans are excited. You have to find the right balance for everything: providing knowledge and education to the players and there is also the physical stuff and how we can get fitter and we can improve there but among all this you have to remember that there is also a game on the weekend. We want to improve every day too.”
‘Like a sponge’
The influence of Postecoglou is clear and profound as is the respect Cklamovski has for his former boss.
“Mate, I love him like family,” Cklamovski told the Sun-Herald.
“From early doors I kind of fell in love with his football. It just resonated with me, ignited a flame within me.
“I’ve served a strong apprenticeship. I’d say, respectfully, I’ve learned from the best... his obsession with the football he wants to play, his belief and conviction within that is always powerful, never waivers away from it. His success that he creates is a byproduct of all of that. He’s a serial winner, mate.”
In learning from Postecoglou, Cklamovski claimed he was “like a sponge”. “I absorbed everything I could. I had the mentality, if I could push him and raise his level anywhere I could, then at the same time, I'm pushing myself to higher levels.
"And that was my mentality for years working with him, because I just admired how good he was - even when nobody [else] did.
“Ange is a pioneer for all Australian coaches and he continues to inspire everyone. The move to Celtic is a great reward for his hard work over a long, long time. He is at a club that suits him, a big club. He is one of the best in the world. Now he just needs to showcase himself to the world. He will turn Celtic around.”
For Cklamovski the immediate focus, however, is on his promotion push in Japan.
“The J2 is really interesting. It is a 22-team league and there is a legitimate push by 10 clubs who think they are J1 so nearly half are going for promotion. The other half are fighting for their lives. It is a ding dong every week. I love it.
“I push myself to be the best I can. My motto is to focus on the day and get better. That’s it and where that takes me, we’ll see.”
It is a motto that has resulted in sterling work being done by both Cklamovski and his mentor Postecoglou which is charting the way for future coaches from Down Under.
“I am not sure why Australian coaches have been overlooked before,” said Cklamovski. “I just know that everyone will keep working hard and getting better. This is the Aussie mentality.”
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