With the Socceroos in Dubai this week ahead of next week’s opening FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifier against Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek, we caught up with a very busy member of the team’s staff.
Peter Cklamovski is the FFA’s Technical Analyst. He works very closely with Ange Postecoglou preparing analysis on opposition and fine-tuning the details needed to help prepare the national team’s training and boost their on-field performance.
Their working relationship goes back longer than the 20 months since Postecoglou took charge of the national team. hey worked together in Greece at Panaxaiki FC some seven years ago and have maintained an association since.
Like the boss, Cklamovski is humble, diligent, hard-working and very proudly Australian; focused on the next cycle in the national team's journey and dreaming big. Very big.
Peter, when Ange got the Socceroos job, what were your thoughts?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to say some of this... We were focused on Melbourne Victory [at the time] and when he got the opportunity to lead our country, I felt relieved for our country.
We got the right man at the top job. I believe in him ... I knew he would take our country forward the way we need to.
I was disappointed he left Melbourne Victory because I think we were creating something special, which Kevin Muscat has continued and carried on in his own way which I’m very proud of him doing.
My responsibility was to finish Victory’s season as I started it, which was to work as hard as I could for the club to have success.
Luckily enough it turned into a role with the Socceroos at the right time to start preparing for the World Cup.
Take us back to when you first started with the Socceroos...
I realised the challenges we had. We quickly realised what we needed to do in order to build a level of detail to our process.
We walked into a football department with nothing. It was like ground zero.
Knowing the process we know and believe in, we walked in and had nothing to start the engine with.
It was exciting, challenging, disappointing all wrapped into one because this was our national team.
Melbourne Victory was more advanced than the Socceroos were moving into a World Cup.
It was an area of opportunity. Seize the moment and try and drive the country forward was the objective.
Our objective is to lead the game and set the right example for clubs to follow and that’s from the top right down to youth development.
It’s a very complex project but it’s something we’re very proud of and hungry to achieve. Plenty of work to do but I don’t think there’s any better man than Ange to do it.
You mention Ange, how do you describe working with him?
An honour and a privilege. It’s a continual educational process. If I can value-add to a man and a coach like Ange, if anyone can do that, it’s pretty special.
He’s a special character, a humble and honest individual. Has a high level of integrity, plenty of experience, good and bad which have definitely chiselled him from a coaching point of view.
He’s very clear and his vision and outlook on his playing style is very clear and succinct, which is not always the case in some cases. That’s a very powerful tool. His execution on all that encompasses his success.
What have you learned from him?
Instinctively you just learn. I’ve been talking to my family and they say, ‘you sound like Ange’.
I’ve been around him that long it’s a pretty special man to be around and I’ve been blessed to be around him that long.
I’ll forever learn off him.
Tell me about Socceroo training sessions...
This is where we have the benefit where the way we train is designed by our playing style. Part of our process is gathering sports science data and doctor Craig Duncan is one of the world’s leading sports scientists so the information coming into the planning of our sessions is fantastic and what we needed.
So each session is planned?
Without a doubt. Part of our processes is there’s a medical and sports science meeting that doctor Craig Duncan, Doc Jones and Les Gelis have away from us and then they filter the information back to the coaching department; we then plan the session and get it right for who we’re coming up against and how we have to execute our playing style to get the result.
Ange observes most sessions I’ve noticed. Do you and the coaching team meet with him to discuss things later?
We review our session and pick the positives and areas of improvement from the session we need to be aware of. That’s part of the process. We then take it into the next day and plan for that and the evolution continues.
The yo-yo test that we did [prior to the Asian Cup] was part of gaining a level of detail about our players and where they’re at. Doctor Craig Duncan drives that, gives us really good information of where our players are at.
From a training point of view everything we’re doing, any drill we come up with, any drill creation we design is based on our playing style.
We do like to play those little combinations; we do like to have a playing style which is sexy to watch.
You probably see some things in training that you see in matches, that’s the objective.
I’ve noticed play-and-move drills are a big part of the sessions...
That’s Ange’s evolution of the Socceroos, to play with a little bit more flexibility within our style. Our structure was adjusted slightly and we introduced some rotations that were a little bit different and it allowed players to use their creative brilliance which we believe in. What you saw in training hopefully is what you saw in matches.
How important is it to have one base for all national teams, like Coverciano in Italy and St Georges Park in England?
That’s the ideal scenario. I know the organisation will be pressing for that to happen sooner rather than later. That would be a really big step forward for us to have a central base ... everyone needs a home so to have a home of football in Australia will be a very big addition.
I’m sure Ange is pushing for it. It’s more of a complex discussion than ‘I want this and let’s make it’ because government will be involved and land…definitely above my playground that one.
Scouting throughout Asia and scouting generally. How much is it a priority?
We have a high priority on our scout strategy. We’ve got our internal scouts who will travel to our group matches to scout opponents who we’ll play in September and October and that logistically is a little bit different to any other country in the world. It’s something we’ll continue to refine and improve. That’s part of our process we believe gives us an opportunity to be successful.
Do the scouts feed info into an app? How does it work?
It [the info] comes into our internal process. They document it in an FFA internal document then it comes into the coaching staff and then it comes into our internal process. Then players get drip fed information in a planned and methodical way for their learning purposes about who they’re playing against and what does it mean in our playing style.
Onto the current World Cup qualification cycle, describe the challenge of ascertaining and information gathering for countries like Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh and Tajikistan?
It’s small part of the challenge we’ll face. We’ll do our homework and players will be well equipped with relevant information of their opponents. We’ll continue to develop and evolve our process which we believe is the key to success.
We from an analysis point of view we know everything about them. We’ll even know what type of breakfast they like to eat.
That sort of thing just adds to our preparation and confidence. It helped in the Asian Cup, we knew we were the best prepared. We knew everything we needed to know about our opponents. Even the opponents we didn’t play, we knew about them.
It provides a level of confidence that we as coaching staff are prepared but also the challenge is to deliver that message to the players in a clear way, applying that to our playing style.
Again it’s an important part of our process. That gathering of information, our analysis approach, our delivery to the players, our training sessions, it all encompasses our research on our opponents and how we need to perform in our playing style to execute a good performance and a good result.
It’s an exciting part of our chapter. It’s an opportunity to develop and progress our playing style and that’s a challenging part of our evolution. And that excites me.
So, will this Socceroo side be at its peak in three years if we qualify for Russia 2018?
Peak as in the group? Well, I don’t like to say that because they’ll be at their best and won’t get better. That will never happen.
They’ll be peaking – at the top of their game, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be at their very best.
That’ll be a really exciting time to surprise the world.
Surprise the world means?
Again, why can’t we win it? No limitations. Being Australian, play well and anything can happen.
So take us back to the Asian Cup. Tell me about preparing for your opponents...
That process was always evolving. Yes we had a base of information on all our opponents. We did a scout trip to the Gulf Cup in November. We had a library of information on all our opponents.
Leading into the games in the Asian Cup we also had a scouting strategy where we had out scours watching every game of the Asian Cup and reporting back in. That library continued to get bigger and more detailed both from a reinforcement point of view of the information we’ve got plus adding extra detail.
So when we came up against an opponent we had everything required to be well prepared and then execute a good performance and a good result.
Though scouting teams isn’t always straightforward, especially when teams change personnel and coach?
Take Kuwait. We’d looked at Kuwait in September and then the Gulf Cup was their next match and they played three matches there. Then a few games in December where there was a change of coach. So with their new coach we had to find out if there was a changeover in approach, a change in style.
Ultimately the players remained the same so we had a starting point. It was an interesting one because they were our first opponent so we had to do extra homework on them. As hard-working football staff we did that and we were well prepared for game one.
What sense did you get about the squad as the Asian Cup unfolded?
I believed that we were going to be successful. It felt like that. We wanted Japan. We can’t control that so we didn’t waste too much energy on it but the mood in the camp was we want Japan, we want to beat Japan in the semi-final.
We can only control what we can. From day one it felt like something special was happening, I sensed that and I know everyone around me worked tirelessly to make it happen.
Every individual was as important as anyone else. Everyone put in a shift to create something special for our country that we were blessed to be a part of and very proud of.
Did you notice all the incredible hype before the final on January 31?
I don’t. I don’t get the luxury to lift my head up for a breath of fresh air. In the coaching department there’s no time.
We’re lucky to read the paper, with the level of detail we go into to prepare ourselves and the players, we pretty much go into a little bubble.
Obviously the players would have sensed it [the hype] they are a different beast to what we are as staff. That was the important part of the Asian Cup for us was to connect with the fans and the community and our country because ultimately what we were doing was for the future of the game.
Ange made important comments and notes to that effect and the players felt that. The first week of camp Ange got the players up and they delivered what it meant to be a Socceroo for their journey.
Must’ve been emotional...
It was tear-jerking. And all staff were involved in that as well. There was some emotional moments in those talks over the week. A few constant messages was how important it was to represent the Socceroos jersey for our country and the future of our game.
Going back to the publicity that was evolving as the Asian Cup continued, that was a special part for us as a Socceroos unit but no doubt an important part for the players because they were doing it for everyone out there as well.
Do you remember the vibe in the hours before the Asian Cup Final?
We prepared well, we knew we’d done everything in our power to produce the performance we need to get the result.
During the warm-up I get a good sense of where they’re at and that gives me a bit of a smell to how the mood is. We were switched on and prepared like any other game, obviously it’s not any other game but we were ready to perform and do our country proud and that was the main thing.
So you can sense if and when the players are a bit nervous?
You tend to. That’s the art of it all. You can have all the science in the world but you need that art to get the players in the right space. And Ange is the best at it, without a doubt. And we try to support that. But final day was business as usual, as boring as that sounds.
How do you keep the players relaxed yet focussed for that entire day of a final?
Boring response but it’s another game and our process remains the same. Breakfast and team meeting at the same time. Walk, pre-match… everything’s the same and that process supports a player on a big day like that.
Take us inside the camp after you won, starting with the police escort that took the team coach back to the hotel. Describe the feeling…
Mate, I’d say relief.
Relief that everyone’s hard work got the rewards it deserved and to have that legacy and special moment in our lives forever to win an Asian Cup in Australia. No-one will get to do that for a long, long time.
So to be a part of that was very special but there was an immense amount of work that went into that achievement by everyone at FFA and relief was a big one for me.
So, how did you celebrate?
We got back, had a really quick dinner then a function for family and friends. The Asian Cup trophy was floating around so I managed to get a hold of that for a few photos. But you know what, I reckon I had one beer and I remember saying to Ange, ‘I’m gone mate’.
And within an hour I was asleep in my room. And Ange and everyone was pretty much the same, just wanting to go to their rooms and sleep.
But it was nice to share it with family and friends.
Tell me about the challenges ahead?
I don’t think the challenges ever stop for Ange. We’ve got a really big challenge to qualify for a World Cup. Within our group the challenges are different to what we’ve come up against before.
Then after that if you look too far ahead we’ve got Confederations Cup, which is another challenge then you apply our progression from the Asian Cup into hopefully a World Cup which we’ve qualified for and then win the Asian Cup again.
The challenges will always be there and his expectations will always be there. I don’t think there will ever be a day that he [Ange] doesn’t see a challenge in anything he does.
What does it mean to be Australian to you?
That’s a good question. It means to be the best at anything you do. Full stop.
What’s the best part of this job you have?
To work with Ange and the Australian players. To have a group of men in one room representing their country, it’s a special environment. And that’s the essence of being a Socceroo.
What’s the hardest challenge in your job?
[pauses to think] A good question… [pauses again]. Nothing’s too hard. Whatever is in front of us, we’ll knock down and get through it.
We have to think outside the square sometimes to make things happen. That’s a challenge within itself but it doesn’t stop us.