As Peter Cklamovski took time out to re-evaluate and reassess after his short and bruising experience in charge of Shimizu S-Pulse, which ended barely half a season into what he saw as a multi-year project, he was still a coach in demand across the continent.
Offers from different countries across Asia came in, but none were tempting enough for the former right-hand man of current Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou.
Then Montedio Yamagata came calling.
The J2 outfit, languishing dangerously near the foot of the J2 table and looking headed for a relegation scrap, might not have been everyone’s choice for their second chance. There seemed more risk than reward in the short term. But after hearing what they had to say, something gnawed away at Cklamovski that he couldn’t ignore.
“I had a few different little things to look at,” the unassuming Cklamovski told The Asian Game recently.
“I just felt like there was more chapters in Japan and luckily enough the club pitched a vision that excited me. Within that the club operated in good ways, which was interesting as well.
“And researching the squad, I looked at the squad and saw a little bit of inspiration there working with the players within the squad make up. All of that gave me a good feeling inside and I went with my gut and found myself here.”
The J2 outfit have ambitions of returning to J1, where they spent three seasons from 2009-2011, as well as a lone season in 2015.
But upon Cklamovski’s appointment, promotion was the furthest thing from the minds of anyone at the club. Languishing in 17th, just above the drop zone, the first priority was safety; survive the season, re-evaluate and then push for promotion in 2022.
“Getting back to J1 is the ambition of everyone,” the 42-year-old said.
“When I first walked into the club the discussions were more around avoiding relegation but again I don’t concentrate too much on that.
“I’m ambitious and I want to get the team to J1 as quick as I can. That’s the mentality I’ve got and I’m not afraid to dream big but the only way to do that is to get the day right and to work hard and that’s where we’ll really keep concentrating on and nailing our next couple of games and focus on continuing to get results.”
And getting the results they most certainly are.
The turnaround at Montedio, based in the northern Japanese city of Tendo in Yamagata prefecture – one of Japan’s smallest prefectures – has been nothing short of remarkable.
Since Cklamovski took over in mid-May the club has had ten wins and one draw from their eleven league games. Perhaps even more remarkable, for a side coached by a man who espouses the same attacking philosophy as his mentor Postecoglou, they have kept six clean sheets and conceded just five goals across those eleven games, while banging in 22 at the other end.
His work has not gone unnoticed, either, being named the J2 Manager of the Month for July; a month interrupted by the Olympics but in which Yamagata recorded three straight wins. Such has been the turnaround in fortunes in a short space of time, despite being in charge for only a few months an argument can already be made for Cklamovski being named Manager of the Year.
Nevermind safety, suddenly an unlikely promotion isn’t out of the equation. They’ve shot from 17th to 5th and sit just four points behind second placed Jubilo Iwata. They are the form side in J2. With still 18 games remaining this season, promotion has gone from a fantasy to a realistic probability.
“I can’t help it, but I just don’t focus on those things,” he explained.
“It’s the day for me and getting the most out of the day which is a bit of a life philosophy that I instil to my family as well in getting better every day.
“For the players I want to make sure that we enjoy that hard work of getting better every day and see where that lands, so I just concentrate on what I do and enjoy it and see where it takes me.
“For me, it’s just get the work right, get the preparation right, get the week right, get the drill right, get the day right and don’t waste a second and do that the best you can and see where it lands.”
And importantly for Cklamovski he’s managed to achieve it all while staying true to himself and his principles and philosophy.
“Coming in mid-season it’s a different scenario where you’ve got a couple of days training and then a game, and build from there,” Cklamovski said.
“It’s been a progression of how to layer the progression of the game model and educate the players bit by bit. And that’s across all aspects of the game; defensively, attacking, physically as well, how do you get players fitter and faster, in season while you still have to maintain freshness for the weekend as well, which adds another dimension to it.”
While he is now out on his own, Cklamovski knows the opportunity wouldn’t have arisen were it not for Postecoglou and his pioneering success with Yokohama F.Marinos over the last few seasons.
The Postecoglou and Cklamovski story goes all the way back to 2004 when he was working at the respected Westfield Sports High School in Sydney, where he crossed paths with Postecoglou, who was then in charge of Australia’s under-17 national team, the Joeys.
Working on-and-off with Postecoglou in that junior national team set up over the next few years, Cklamovski followed Postecoglou to the picturesque Greek coastal city of Patras, where the “unemployable” Postecoglou had taken charge of Greek third division side Panachaiki.
While the experience in Patras was short-lived, the then 30-year-old had left such an impression on Postecoglou that the two were almost inseparable for the next decade, reuniting at Melbourne Victory and then working together with the Socceroos and at Yokohama F.Marinos.
“I love him like family,” Cklamovski told the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2020.
“I’m like a sponge, mate, I absorbed everything I could. I had the mentality, if I could push him and raise his level anywhere I could, then at that 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.
“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.”
A byproduct of Postecoglou’s success in Japan has been the growing admiration for Australian coaches, with both of Postecoglou’s title-winning assistants – Clkamovski and Arthur Papas – securing head coaching roles within the Japanese system, while Kevin Muscat, another Postecoglou protégé, has taken over the reins at Yokohama F.Marinos.
Now at Scottish giants Celtic, Postecoglou is blazing a new trail for Australian coaches.
“Firstly, I’m super proud for Ange to get the opportunity, he deserves it and I think it suits him the club, a massive club such as Celtic,” he said to The Asian Game.
“I’ve always said that he’s one of the best managers in the world and he gets his opportunity now and I’ve got no doubt in my mind that he’ll prove himself to be a top-class manager like he is and I’m just really proud of him and excited that he’ll do a good job.
“Sure, I hope this opens the door for other coaches in Asia but at the same time, Ange has done it for a long, long time – 20-plus years of coaching – and has had success everywhere he’s gone so everyone else has a long way to go.
“I’m sure though that Ange can be the pioneer and I know that it will inspire every Australian coach out there to keep going and work hard and I know there will be more that will follow Ange because there’s a lot of good coaches trying to do that as well.”
Cklamovski is one of those. He is proving, finally, he is not just Postecoglou’s assistant, but one of the brightest emerging coaches in Asia.