The making of Arne Slot: Why he is right for Liverpool

Arne Slot has emerged as the preferred candidate to replace the departing Jurgen Klopp as the next Liverpool manager but who is the man that the club believe can lead them into this new era and what can they expect from this 45-year-old Dutch coach?

In conversation with those who coached Slot and those who have been coached by him, as well as colleagues on his staff, we examine the making of Liverpool’s next manager, exploring his tactical ideas, his man-management and his handling of the media.

‘He was just absorbing everything’

‘Lazy’ is a word that occasionally comes up when discussing Slot as a player. More often it is slow. A languid No 10, there would have been no place for him in Slot’s pressing game. “He was not the quickest but he had a great touch,” Rob McDonald tells Sky Sports.

A former striker with Newcastle and PSV, McDonald was the assistant coach at FC Zwolle, Slot’s boyhood club. He recently ran into Slot at a game between Feyenoord and Groningen, leading to a brief reunion following a double-take from Slot, a teenager no more.

“He could play,” adds McDonald. “He was always one of these who looked around, a bit like [Paul] Gascoigne, and a bit like a couple of the other top players who had that ability to just keep a good straight body and have a good look around.”

Jean-Paul Boetius of Feyenoord, Arne Slot of PEC Zwolle during the Dutch Eredivisie match between PEC Zwolle and Feyenoord at the IJsseldelta Stadium on february 17, 2013 in Zwolle
Arne Slot pictured playing for PEC Zwolle against Feyenoord in 2013

McDonald now recruits Dutch coaches for roles around the world but admits he did not necessarily anticipate Slot’s coaching career. “I think he was just absorbing everything if I look back in hindsight.” That curiosity for coaching came later in his playing days.

When Slot returned to Zwolle later in his career, then known as PEC Zwolle, he had become a leader on the field, asking questions, and demanding to understand the tactics. He joined the staff at the club before beginning that coaching journey in earnest at Cambuur.

‘Hours watching videos’

It was at Cambuur, under Henk de Jong, and, in particular, Marcel Keizer, a future Ajax coach, that Slot’s ideas about how football should be played began to crystallise. He would exchange thoughts with Keizer, the two sharing a video library of matches.

Michel Vonk, the former Manchester City defender who later worked with Slot at AZ Alkmaar, has fond memories of Slot’s appetite for the game. “He spent hours watching videos of the big teams, Barcelona and, of course, Manchester City,” Vonk tells Sky Sports.

“Arne is a tremendous football coach who likes to play football in an attacking way.” Like many top coaches, his commitment to his ideas is total. “He is like Pep Guardiola,” adds Vonk. “He believes in these principles and he lives by them with the team.”

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Kaveh Solhekol explains the details around Arne Slot’s potential move to Liverpool

Slot bonded with Keizer over this enthusiasm for Barcelona’s football and when Keizer moved on in October 2016 it was Slot, working with Sipke Hulshoff, who was afforded his chance as a head coach. Jurjan Manners was among his first signings in January.

“Marcel wanted me in Cambuur. He went to Ajax but told me Arne was there and that I had to go and work with him,” Mannes tells Sky Sports. “I went for the negotiations and got the presentation from Arne. Immediately, you knew this is where you wanted to be.”

‘Really clear what he wanted’

“I was lucky to have a trainer like him in my career,” says Mannes. Among Slot’s many qualities was the clarity of the communication of his tactical ideas. Cambuur usually played on a Friday evening but Slot’s team knew the opposition inside out by Tuesday.

“By then, we already knew they were going to press with three, we were going to build with two defenders and two midfielders dropping back and this was the solution to beat the press. In his sessions, you were already handed the solutions for Friday.

“What Arne did really well was the clarity of what we were going to do versus what the opponent wants us to do. It was so clear. That was the best thing. When you did video analysis with him or were just speaking about your role, he just simplified everything.

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Watch Arne Slot’s inspirational team talk following Feyenoord’s win over Ajax last season

“He made it really clear what the goal of your position was, what he wanted you to do, what he didn’t want you to do. He gave examples using videos, that kind of stuff. It was really clear what he wanted from me, what I had to adjust, and then you just go out and do it.”

Having said that, Mannes had other coaches who were clear in their thinking. “That clarity was not the thing that made him stand out. It was the controlling of space without going one against one.” If Cambuur had to go to a five to retain an extra defender, they did so.

“If we did switch, we had prepared six or seven weeks before the game so that the opponent was not expecting it. He is a very clever, smart guy. I think the control he has and the ability to visualise what the opponent is going to do is maybe the best thing that he has.”

‘We were fully dominant’

It was in that first job that Slot began to attract attention because of his accomplishments. Notably, Cambuur, as a second-tier side, defeated Ajax in the KNVB Cup before following that up with a quarter-final win over an Utrecht side coached by Erik ten Hag.

Arne Slot of SC Cambuur Leeuwarden give instructions to Erik Bakker of SC Cambuur Leeuwardenduring the Dutch Cup semi final match between AZ Alkmaar and sc Cambuur Leeuwarden at AFAS stadium on March 02, 2017 in Alkmaar
Arne Slot during Cambuur’s 2017 KNVB Cup semi-final against AZ Alkmaar

Only a penalty shoot-out defeat to AZ Alkmaar in the semi-final denied Slot a third victory over elite opposition in that cup run. But even more impressive was their league form that season. Cambuur had been 14th when he took over but he lifted them to third.

“We were fully dominant,” says Mannes. Play-off defeat was tough to take. “We ended up not getting promoted but style-wise we were far from everyone else.” Slot’s departure to take an assistant coaching role at AZ was the next step on his journey to the top.

‘A shock for some players’

It was no surprise to Mannes when AZ came calling. Indeed, the only shock was for the AZ players, whose ideas were soon being challenged by their new assistant coach. “You could already see the style changing in the first year that Arne was there,” says Mannes.

“I know about some really clear presentations he gave to the players almost immediately. There was almost a shock moment for some of the players because he was pointing them in a new direction that they were not used to. Those are the stories that I heard.”

Slot spent two years as assistant to John van den Brom before the head coach moved on in the summer of 2019. “I think everyone who was a little close to Arne knew he was going to be the head coach after this.” It was a leap forward for Slot – and for AZ.

‘We were on a roll’

The following campaign was a fraught one for AZ in some respects. “We had to deal with so many things that season,” Pascal Jansen tells Sky Sports. The collapse of a roof at the club’s creaking stadium meant having to play home games at an alternative venue.

It did not prevent Slot leading AZ’s impressive title push. Jansen was on Slot’s coaching staff at the club before eventually succeeding him. There is still frustration about how that season played out. AZ were level on points with Ten Hag’s Ajax with nine games left.

AZ coach Pascal Jansen, Feyenoord coach Arne Slot during the Dutch Eredivisie match between Feyenoord and AZ at Feyenoord Stadium de Kuip on November 7, 2021 in Rotterdam
Arne Slot with Pascal Jansen – the pair took AZ Alkmaar to the brink of the title

“We had a big chance because we were in a good phase, a good mood,” recalls Jansen. “We were on a roll, had beaten Ajax twice. We were mentally tough, played good football and scored a lot of goals. And then the season stopped.” It never did restart.

“If you compare our league to the rest, they had a break and finished the league,” adds Jansen. That is something that the Dutch government did not allow us to do and we will never know how that season would have finished. It was a big frustration.”

Slot was sacked in December of the following season, amid accusations that he was not fully focused on the team having been negotiating with Feyenoord. It was an unfortunate end but his legacy was strong. “He spent a lot of time with the youngsters,” says Vonk.

‘Pressing at a higher intensity’

More than that, he instituted the attacking game that has become de rigueur across Europe – possession play combined with intense pressing. These were principles that he had begun to put in place at the very start of his coaching career with Cambuur, reveals Mannes.

“Pressing-wise, his teams are very well organised. At Cambuur, we always felt that we were pressing at a higher intensity than our opponents, pushing them into the areas where we wanted to press them, dominating even when we did not have the ball.”

It was similar at AZ. “He likes his teams to apply pressure on the opponent at any moment,” says Vonk. “With that, he understands the importance of being super fit. He makes his team stronger, working them very hard to be able to play by his principles.

“And because of this high press, his teams have a lot of self-belief. There are principles that underpin his attacking approach. It starts on the training pitch. A lot of video analysis. He is very clear and makes sure he takes his team on the journey with him.”

Feyenoord was the same story. “The initial idea is to look forward,” says McDonald. “They are not a team that is always playing it backwards or sideways unless the game demands it and they are 1-0 up with a few minutes left. The intentions are always to go forward.”

‘Arne gets more out of players’

Mannes regards Slot’s success at Feyenoord as a continuation of his work, a continuation of a trend. Since their Eredivisie title win in 2017, the club had not finished in the top two since and were languishing down in seventh spot in the table when he took charge.

“He took over from Dick Advocaat, a good coach but a coach with a completely different style to Arne. You could see how the team changed, the style, the dominance, the results, the trophies. Arne gets more out of players than a normal coach.”

There was progress in his first full season with Feyenoord restored to third before winning the Eredivisie title in 2023. It was achieved playing a brand of football that felt like the future for the club, a victory for Feyenoord and a victory for Slot’s vision.

‘One of the best with the media’

In the modern game, selling that vision to the players is only part of the job – selling it to the wider world can be just as important. Slot’s ability to do that sets his apart from many coaches in the game. “With the media, I rate him as one of the best,” says Vonk.

McDonald remains an admirer of Ten Hag but acknowledges that this is perhaps a key difference between the two Dutch coaches and a reason to believe that Slot is more likely to succeed in the Premier League. “I think Arne is easier on the ears,” he says.

“What I like about Arne is that he is really clear. He does not rush. He does not get hassled. He figures out the questions that the press are trying to put to him and has got them sussed in no time. I think that is one of the main reasons why he has done so well.”

Interestingly, his old player Mannes makes this same point about Slot working out what to expect from the press ahead of time. “One thing Arne knows how to deal with is the media. I almost know that he is preparing press conferences as he does with games.”

Roma's head coach Jose Mourinho, center, and Feyenoord's head coach Ame Slot, right, give instructions from the side line during the Europa Conference League final soccer match between AS Roma and Feyenoord at National Arena in Tirana, Albania, Wednesday, May 25, 2022.
Arne Slot lost out to Jose Mourinho in the 2022 Europa Conference League final

Slot has even had the obligatory run-in with Jose Mourinho before becoming Liverpool manager. Slot had praised Napoli but when facing Mourinho’s Roma suggested he did not watch so many of their games, preferring to watch Guardiola’s teams instead.

“Mourinho was pretty upset and motivated his team,” recalls Mannes. “That probably backfired because they lost against Roma so he will also learn from those things.” But, as Mannes and many others see it, this playfulness is all part of the man’s charm.

“As a player, you just really believe in him. He is the one you follow. When you go in at half-time, he will give you the little details to turn the game in your favour, you do it and, boom, it happens. You just buy into him. That is also what he does in the media.”

‘The best managers still lose’

It may have bought Slot some time this season because PSV have been the runaway leaders in the Eredivisie, not even losing a game until the 27th week of the season. Feyenoord did win the KNVB Cup but have had to settle for second spot in the table.

Santiago Gimenez, who scored 13 goals in the second half of last season, has only managed three in the same period this time around. “It has been a bit of a pity that he has not been on the ball because he was scoring for fun before that,” says McDonald.

“That has been a problem. Some of those coming in to replace certain players in certain positions have just not been good enough. You can be the best manager in the world but you will still lose.” And yet, Feyenoord could still surpass last season’s points total.

‘Good person to follow Klopp’

Liverpool are looking beyond trophies when assessing the right person to replace Jurgen Klopp. There is a feeling among those who know Slot and his work that it is the combination of playing style and personality that makes him the right fit.

“I have no doubt that he can relate to the people, he is tactically good and he is hard if he needs to be,” says McDonald. “If there is a problem he will solve it. I think he is a good person to – I cannot believe I am saying this – follow Jurgen Klopp. That is huge.

“But I like that Arne is an easy-going person and I think that will stand him in good stead in terms of following someone who had such a good relationship with his players. That respect from the players can only be won by training methods and communication.”

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Jamie Carragher says Arne Slot may find the step up from Feyenoord to Liverpool difficult

Tactically, Vonk thinks that the change can be relatively seamless. “Most definitely. They are also a team that can be dominant on and off the ball.” While Mannes is convinced that it is this combination of pressing and passing that makes Slot ideal for Liverpool.

“I don’t follow Liverpool as much as Feyenoord but I know Pep Lijnders. They also stand out for their pressing, with a different style under Jurgen Klopp with three up front and three centre-midfielders and the full-backs wide. But it is intense pressing too.

“If they want a coach who can organise a team with pressing but also be really good on the ball, without a doubt Arne Slot is one of those guys who will probably surprise a lot of people not that into Dutch football. Style-wise it will be something that suits, definitely.”

A daunting task but one Arne Slot has been preparing for.

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