Opinion

How Cklamovski is following Postecoglou’s Japanese playbook

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Does this sound familiar? It should. An Australian coach trying to introduce a new way of playing to a Japanese team struggles initially in terms of results but there are, in the background, growing signs that something is happening?

For Ange Postecoglou with Yokohama F Marinos in 2018 there is now Peter Cklamovski with Shimizu S-Pulse in 2020.

Cklamovski knows all about what happened in Yokohama; he was there after all, as the assistant coach.

Just a few days after the Marinos won the J.League in thrilling fashion last December, Shimizu were announcing their new coach in the hope/belief/expectation that their new Aussie leader could replicate at least some of the success he had helped Postecoglou produce at Yokohama.

It was always going to be tricky at Shimizu, a smaller club. The latest title may have been the first for the Marinos since 2004 but was the fourth in total. S-Pulse, who found themselves in second tier in 2016, may be a well-respected and well-liked club but a powerhouse they are not.

Cklamovski aims to change all that at a club that finished just three points above the relegation zone last season.

He had to wait for months to really get going thanks to the global pandemic but losing the first five games of the season was an ominous start.

You can imagine that the former number two spent time on the phone to Postecoglou. The ex-Socceroos boss flirted with relegation in his debut season in 2018 and there were even suggestions on more than one occasion that he had only a couple of games to save his job.

In the end, Yokohama survived only by goal difference, amazingly one of four teams to do so. Yet what happened the season after has gone down in history, a turnaround not quite Leicester-like but the title win was quite something nonetheless.

Cklamovski has had a similarly sticky spell. In some Asian leagues, zero points from five games would have a coach, especially a foreign one, close to the door - if he was lucky.

But Cklamovski has had some fortune. With the Japanese season not escaping the ravages of coronavirus, authorities decided to do away with relegation in 2020.

This removal of the trapdoor has also taken away pressure and stress, enabling all coaches to look past the short-term, something that the Shimizu boss was looking to do anyway.

Still, starting a tenure with five straight defeats doesn’t just look bad, if it goes any further then there is a risk of players losing trust and respect, and it can be hard to win over those who make the decisions at the club.

It will come as some relief then that Shimizu have started picking up points with two wins and two draws from the last four games.

In those victories over Consadole Sapporo and Oita Trinita, it was noticeable how much more quickly the team won the ball back after losing it and how faster the counter-attacks were.

South Korean defender Hwang Seok-ho told reporters after Saturday’s Sapporo win that he was becoming more aware of the movements of his team-mates even with players switching positions in a more fluid style of football.

During the run of defeats, Shimizu looked good in parts, often having 15 minutes spells in both halves when they were on top and in control only to fade. While these are still early days, these good spells are starting to become longer.

The defence can still look open, as the total lack of clean sheets in 2020 suggests, but a slicker passing game is developing, helped by a Brazilian right side of full-back Elsinho, right-sided central defender Valdo and midfielder Renato Augusto (not the former Brazilian international) that is becoming more influential.

Overall, Shimizu are looking more comfortable on the ball and less likely to lose heart when things don’t go their way.

Pragmatism plays a part too. In the 4-2 win over Oita, all four goals came from set pieces, three from corners and one from a free-kick as the Shizuoka side made use of their considerable height.

There's nothing wrong with that and nothing wrong with the emergence of green shoots amid the famous orange of Shimizu S-Pulse.

So far, Cklamovski is following the path set by Ange Postecoglou. Their meeting on August 18 should give an idea of how far there is still to go.