What Liverpool can expect from Slot: Attacking football, intensity and player development


Arne Slot received the seal of approval from Jurgen Klopp even before his move to Liverpool was confirmed. When news broke of the Reds’ advanced interest in the Feyenoord head coach on April 23, things moved quickly. Slot admitted two days later he was keen on the move and by April 26, Klopp was telling Slot he was “getting the best job in the world.”

Meanwhile, pundits everywhere immediately began weighing up his chances of success even before he’d signed the contract, let alone stepped foot in Anfield. Welcome to the Premier League, Arne — and all this was happening while Slot was guiding Feyenoord through their final matches of their 2023-24 season.

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Slot will swap De Kuip for The Kop this summer, stepping into the huge void left by Klopp, who transformed the club and leaves as a bona fide Liverpool legend. It’s an intimidating task — Slot is technically taking a new role as head coach, rather than manager — but those close to Slot are united in saying he won’t be daunted by the expectation or pressure. If anything, he’ll smile in the face of it.

“He deserves this,” former Ajax and PSV Eindhoven player Kenneth Perez tells ESPN. “He’s one of the best Dutch coaches we’ve had in a long, long time.”


“He’s not aggressive, but he is a positive person”

When it comes to Slot’s playing career, he was a stable, solid Eredivisie player: reliable and technical in advanced midfield, but not the sort who was catching the eye of Champions League teams. “You could see he was an intelligent player,” remembers ex-Morocco striker Ali Boussaboun, who played alongside Slot at NAC Breda from 2002 to 2005. “He wasn’t aggressive and wasn’t overly vocal, or quiet. Whenever he did talk, though, it was usually about tactics.”

Slot played for NAC Breda from 2002 to 2007, Sparta Rotterdam for two seasons and finished up at PEC Zwolle. In the 2002-03 season, the NAC Breda side fielded both Slot and Alfred Schreuder, who would later manage Club Brugge and Ajax among others. “You could tell they were both going to be managers,” Boussaboun says.

Slot kept his head down, working as hard as he could and playing to the limits of his ability. All the while he was learning — a kind of footballing magpie stockpiling ideas, drills and thoughts for his post-playing life.

“I mean this in a positive way, but outside of football, he lives a quiet life,” Boussaboun says. “He doesn’t come from a big city, and he’s not a flamboyant person. That suits Arne because it’s not the person he wants to be or is. He’s a great father, husband, teammate: he’s not aggressive, but he’s a positive person.”

Slot took that positive mindset into management. He worked as a youth coach at PEC Zwolle after retiring in 2013, then joining SC Cambuur in 2014, where he was an assistant before progressing up to caretaker manager for most of the 2016-17 season. There he fine-tuned his management philosophy, establishing his style as unapologetically attacking and aggressive, while prioritising fitness above all else.

“[Slot is] very detail-orientated and he wants to play attacking football,” former Netherlands defender Ron Vlaar tells ESPN. “When you lose the ball, he wants to get it back straight away. So high pressure, high on the pitch, an aggressive defence, and attacking football, but with good ideas. He loves to use his full-backs, getting them both to overlap and underlap. So rather than seeing what happens, he wants to take control of a match and has really strong ideas.”

Boussaboun says Slot also wants to start the buildup for any move with the goalkeeper, and “keep the ball … playing with three up front, with quick wingers.” After all, the new Liverpool boss has spoken previously of his admiration for Pep Guardiola and his Barcelona team.

“He gives me the ultimate pleasure in football,” Slot said of Guardiola to Voetbal International in 2023. “I certainly don’t want to compare myself to Pep, but he is a control freak like me.” One of his coaching contemporaries said Slot also admires Mikel Arteta, Marcelo Bielsa, Jorge Sampaoli and Luciano Spalletti.

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Slot was patient in his coaching journey: after a taste of the job with Cambuur, he was picked up by AZ Alkmaar in 2017 as assistant coach to John van den Brom and eventually took the top job in 2019.

“Top players get the chance to manage a top team quickly, but he had to work hard to get there,” Perez says. “He was a decent player, but not a top player. So he had to work his way up, and there’s nothing wrong with that because you will learn a lot more also from your mistakes and you can do that on a lower level.”

In Slot’s debut season with AZ, he secured wins over Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax and at the heart of his defence was Vlaar, the former Aston Villa centre-back who played the final six seasons of his career at his boyhood club.

“I think we played the best football at AZ under him when he was the coach,” Vlaar says. “I think we never played better than that and we were all very fit. We trained hard, but he was clear about the things he wanted to see in training. He also told us upfront ‘OK, this is not going to be a nice exercise, but we have to do it to develop.’ We gave everything every time. I think we were the fittest team that season.”

One aspect of Slot’s personality that’s stayed with Vlaar is how calm he would be regardless of how the team were performing. “For example, when we had a bad result, he said, ‘OK, we had some goals, but this part of the performance is good, this isn’t.’ I don’t remember if I’ve seen him angry.”

Yet Slot was also unrelenting in his expectations. After a 0-0 draw with Manchester United in the 2019-20 Europa League, the AZ dressing room was a scene of jubilation at having taken a point off Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. But Slot saw things differently.

“He said ‘yeah, this is nice, but if we want to go through to the next round, we also have to win some games,'” Vlaar says. “He was always sharp in how he chose his words, but I really liked that because you cannot lean back and be happy with a draw, even if it’s against the top team. He always knew how to motivate us for the next game.”

The 2019-20 season was curtailed due to COVID-19, but at the time it was halted, AZ were second in the league on goal difference, level on points with Ajax. “I believe we would have won it,” Vlaar says. “He was key to that whole season.”


“He’s very good at exploiting any weaknesses”

AZ were in the ascendancy under Slot, though things changed abruptly midway through the 2020-21 campaign. Feyenoord were looking for a new manager, and sporting director Frank Arnesen learned that Slot could be an option via his agent, Mino Raiola. The two met in secret to talk about the possibility of Slot taking over from Dick Advocaat, but details of the December meeting leaked to the media and AZ promptly sacked him. “We believe people who work at AZ should have full focus on AZ,” technical director Max Huiberts said at the time.

“It’s a very strict club,” Perez tells ESPN. “They have a certain way of doing things, and they couldn’t cope with Slot talking with Feyenoord. I guess it’s normal in football for players or managers to talk to different teams, but AZ is a different breed. They don’t accept things like this and pushed him out. I don’t think it’s too bad what he did.”

When Slot took over Feyenoord ahead of the 2021-22 season, they were coming off a fifth-place finish in the Eredivisie — a low position by their standards — and were clawing themselves out from a spell of financial turmoil that saw their star player, Steven Berghuis, leave for their fierce rivals Ajax.

Feyenoord were also playing dire football. Their collective transfer spend that summer was only €9.5 million, but Slot built a formidable team that went on to finish third and reached the final of the Europa Conference League, where they lost 1-0 to Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma.

The following summer saw Feyenoord gutted in the transfer market — top scorer Luis Sinisterra signed for Leeds United, Tyrell Malacia went to Manchester United, Marcos Senesi to AFC Bournemouth and Fredrik Aursnes joined Benfica for a collective fee of €69.3m, with a net profit of €59.5m. Just five of the team that lost to Roma were there the following season, but working with Arnesen, Feyenoord and Slot brought in Mexico international Santiago Giménez, midfielder Quinten Timber, defender David Hancko (the club’s record signing at €8.3m) and winger Igor Paixão. He managed to integrate the new signings brilliantly while improving the players they already had.

So what’s like to play a Slot-coached team? One word comes to mind: brutal.

As an opposition coach in the Eredivisie told ESPN: “It’s very claustrophobic facing a team managed by Arne. You always know you are facing a very fit team that will chase you down and will fight until the very last moment, and they will have a tactical plan to make your life difficult. He’s very good at exploiting any weaknesses.

“I remember we did some analysis on how he got his team to play Marseille once [in April 2022] and they put together a brilliant game plan. He played very compact, with his wingers far deeper, using long balls over the top having seen Marseille were weak at defending that. And it worked: they won 3-2.”

“The players love him of course,” Perez says. “You’d be crazy to not love him because he has put these players on the map. I think these players are not exceptional, but he has made them very good.

“I worry when these players go to [bigger] clubs — I think they’re going to find it very difficult as they won’t have a trainer like him. So I think he has made these players from being like 6/10 to 8/10.”

Talk to those around Feyenoord and ask for an example of how Slot has advanced a player, and they all point to Turkish midfielder Orkun Kökcü, who is now at Benfica, having left the club in the summer of 2023. “He was a little bit of a ‘lazy’ No. 10, thinking he already worked it out in football and Slot has made him a very fit player, a professional player, and earned a lot of money for the club and him,” Perez says.

Feyenoord had won the Eredivisie in Kökcü’s final season, and as they clinched the title with a 3-0 victory over Go Ahead Eagles he fell to the ground, overwhelmed. It was Slot who picked him up. He was Slot’s captain, and when he collected the Player of the Season award, it was Slot who handed him the award.

“It was like a match made in heaven,” Boussaboun says. Only later did Kökcü reveal not only how Slot had improved him on the pitch, but also how he helped him away from football when he was suffering from insomnia.

“It was due to a recovery shake I took that didn’t go down well during Ramadan,” Kökcü told Voetbal International. “I couldn’t get to sleep, which caused a lot of anxiety. [Slot] was one of the few who knew about it. He is more than a trainer, and understands exactly how to deal with people. That’s why I cried when I hugged him after the championship game.”

Last season, Feyenoord secured the KNVB Cup and finished second behind PSV, despite losing only two matches. Slot’s players always attracted plenty of attention from domestic and European rivals, but the biggest clubs were keeping a close eye on the man who’d masterminded their success instead.


“It’s not easy to step into Klopp’s shoes, but somebody has to do it”

It was March 3, and Slot was fielding questions from the press after Feyenoord battled to a 2-2 draw at PSV. A journalist from German publication Kicker asked Slot what he thought about being on Bayern Munich’s shortlist to replace Thomas Tuchel, and whether he’d be keen to move to the Bundesliga. Instead of an answer, he received the usual, a charming, polite retort of no comment mixed with commitment to Feyenoord. “Yeah, he’s a clever guy,” Perez says. “He knows how to play the media.”

Slot’s become more comfortable with such questions, having faced them for the past couple of seasons. He’s had admirers in the Premier League before Liverpool came knocking. Leeds were keen on him to replace Jesse Marsch, but Slot wanted to stay at Feyenoord.

“It was a compliment a club like Leeds was interested, but we are doing something great with Feyenoord,” Slot said at the time. “There is no disappointment. It’s certainly not a punishment to stay here.” Crystal Palace were also reportedly keen on him when they dismissed Patrick Vieira but it was Tottenham Hotspur who at one stage looked like they were going to tempt him to the Premier League.

That was in March 2023, and Tottenham had identified Slot as a target to replace the sacked Antonio Conte. They were also keen on recruiting Feyenoord’s general manager, Dennis te Kloese, but both rejected approaches. “I have heard a lot about the interest of other clubs in me,” Slot said. “I am grateful for the appreciation that expresses this, but my wish is to stay at Feyenoord and continue to build on the foundation laid over the past two seasons.”

Slot signed a new contract tying him to Feyenoord through to the summer of 2026, but when Klopp announced he was leaving Liverpool and the Reds’ interest in Slot became clear, he felt it was the right move.

“It’s no secret I want to go to Liverpool,” Slot told ESPN Netherlands on April 25. “The clubs are negotiating. We have to wait until an agreement is reached, but I have every confidence in that.”

Liverpool’s CEO of football Michael Edwards and incoming sporting director Richard Hughes saw it as a perfect fit: Slot played attacking football, was popular with his players, was comfortable using data to aid performance, connected well with Feyenoord’s fans, managed to improve existing players and worked well to a budget. He also communicated with his players at Feyenoord in English.

“I think he’s got a philosophy similar to the philosophy of Liverpool,” Vlaar says.

Having officially started as head coach Saturday, Slot joins Liverpool along with his assistant Sipke Hulshoff, head of performance Ruben Peeters and analyst Etienne Reijnen. “How he builds the staff around him will be essential to success,” a source told ESPN.

How will Slot handle the spotlight and pressure as he becomes the 10th Dutch manager to take charge of a Premier League team? “The Premier League is a different ball game, and you have big clubs with a lot of news outlets,” Boussaboun says. “Yeah, it’s like going from Feyenoord to not 2.0 Feyenoord, but 5.0 Feyenoord. And the scrutiny is much different over there.”

Even before he arrived, Liverpool legends were questioning the appointment, with Jamie Carragher in his Daily Telegraph column calling it “intriguing rather than exciting,” and a gamble.

“Slot would be an appointment made with the head rather than the heart,” he wrote. “Klopp’s appeal was to the head and heart. When Klopp joined in 2015 supporters were grateful he chose the club when he could have waited for any in the world. If Slot arrives, he will be grateful Liverpool chose him and will need to justify the selection.”

When Slot joined Feyenoord, in his opening address to the press, he made clear what he stood for.

“Wherever you work in football, there is pressure everywhere and you have to perform everywhere,” Slot said. “You have tension everywhere: will you get enough time? I understand better than anyone that people expect us to play a certain type of football and for players to develop, but the most important thing is you win matches with Feyenoord. If that doesn’t happen for too long, you know what could happen.”

Substitute Feyenoord for Liverpool and you can imagine him delivering a similar message when he is unveiled at Anfield.

“He will manage the pressure well,” Perez says. “It’s not easy to step into Klopp’s shoes, but somebody has to do it. He will need some time to get adjusted to the fact every three, or four days you have a big match where you get pushed to the limit all the time — even against the smaller teams in Holland it’s a little bit different.

“That’s going to be a challenge. Working with a squad of 25 very good players is another challenge. But he can do it.”





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