Opinion

Shimizu struggle to get ‘Ange-ball’ on the cheap

Ange Postecoglou,coach of Yokohama F.Marinos (R) and Peter Cklamovski (L) Source: Getty Images

On Saturday Shimizu S-Pulse received a standing ovation from fans at Kashiwa Reysol after a 0-0 draw. On Sunday Peter Cklamovski left his job as head coach.

Looking at the table then it was not difficult to see why. The club had lost 17 out of 25 games and was off the bottom only thanks to goal difference.

Shimizu was not heading for relegation as J.League authorities had ruled earlier in the season that due to the coronavirus there would be no teams going down this season but it was still a painful position for one of Japan’s proudest clubs.

Like all of Japanese football, the Shizuoka outfit watched with first interest and then admiration as Ange Postecoglou took Yokohama F. Marinos to the 2019 J.League title, playing a brand of exciting, attacking and proactive football. 

Like some of Japanese football, S-Pulse wanted the same. So they went to Yokohama and hired Cklamovski, Postecoglou’s assistant. The intention was clear: to recreate, as much as possible, the style and, hopefully, success, of the Marinos.

The success was obviously absent though it should be pointed out that in 2018, Postecoglou’s first season, Yokohama almost went down. The team avoided the relegation play-off spot just on goal difference. It was the second season when the results started to follow and the best run came later in that campaign.

We will never know whether Cklamovski could have engineered a similar turnaround in his second season (it should also be pointed out that Postecoglou didn’t have to deal with a four-month shut down after the first game of the season) at Shimizu but the signs were not looking good.

While results were dire, the major problem for Cklamovski is that Shimizu does not have the same resources as Yokohama, one of Japan’s biggest clubs and four-time champions. Postecoglou was still able to recruit and strengthen and then did so again ahead of the all-important second season. Assuming that the two tacticians have similar visions, the senior coach had more and better tools at his disposal.

Shimizu is a club well-liked but not especially well-off and the lack of depth in the squad became more noticeable as the season progressed. With the postponement due to coronavirus meaning that games were squeezed into a shorter space than usual, this became especially obvious. 

The new rule introduced to help combat fatigue in these unusual times also did not favour S-Pulse. Being able to bring on five subs was good for those teams with strong benches.

As the coach said on Sunday: "In the end, we fell short with results but the football style was evident, players gave it everything they had but we weren’t good enough in both boxes."

There were certainly mistakes at the back. While Shimizu improved going forward, so did other teams in the league, inspired by the success of Yokohama and perhaps the lack of relegation, but defensively, it is clear that Shimizu was not a tough nut to crack. Out of 25 games, there were only three clean sheets and two of those came against Shonan Bellmare and Vegalta Sendai, the teams either side of the next-to-bottom S-Pulse. 

The question is whether 2021 would have been better. We will never know but with little prospect of major recruitment, a Yokohama-style resurgence was unlikely. There were promising signs, however. The orange men were losing games but were creating chances, more opportunities than the opposition in the majority of their games during the season. Shimizu were aggressive and attacking at least earlier on though had become sluggish.

Not many coaches survive after losing two-thirds of their games but if, as seems to be the case, the coach and management had different ideas on how to go forward, a separation is for the best.  

Neither can really complain. Cklamovski knows that the more you lose, the less comfort can be taken in performance yet the experience was a vital one. Shimizu had a coach who introduced new ideas that may yet bear fruit in the future. Their paths may cross once again.