Arne Slot of Feyenoord get the applauds of the fans during the Dutch Eredivisie match between Feyenoord and PEC Zwolle at Stadion Feijenoord on May 5, 2024 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Hans van der Valk/Orange Pictures)

I followed Arne Slot at Feyenoord – here’s why Liverpool FC have made the right move

Liverpool FC’s decision to appoint Arne Slot may not be universally popular, but having followed him in the Netherlands, Joe Baker is confident it is an intelligent move.

Any initial feelings of concern are understandable – a short drive down the M62 and Liverpool fans can look at an ongoing example of a Dutch coach, who achieved great things in his homeland, now struggling against a tide seemingly pulling him inexorably towards the Premier League managerial trapdoor.

Ultimately, Erik ten Hag may survive and achieve success at Man United. Yet even then, those questioning the appointment of Feyenoord’s Arne Slot to fill the humongous shoes of Jurgen Klopp can point to many other times that Dutch coaches have skipped over the North Sea with their specific tactical ideas and enhanced reputations but failed to match the hype.

Step forward Ronald Koeman (Everton), Frank de Boer (Crystal Palace) and Louis van Gaal (Man United) to name but a few.

After being heavily linked with Xabi Alonso – a former player who has just famously won Bayer Leverkusen’s first Bundesliga and is going for an unprecedented, unbeaten treble – to a coach whom many in England have perhaps only heard of in the last year is undoubtedly a managerial comedown.

However, as someone who has lived in the Netherlands for almost four years and watched a lot of Slot’s Feyenoord for three of them – often in person at their wonderfully atmospheric De Kuip Stadion – I believe there is a lot for Liverpool fans to get excited about.


The scale of the club

2WYJR81 Rotterdam, The Netherlands. 07th Apr, 2024. Rotterdam - Feyenoord coach Arne Slot during the Eredivisie match between Feyenoord v Ajax at Stadion Feijenoord De Kuip on 7 April 2024 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Credit: box to box pictures/Alamy Live News

Scan the room of available managerial options for the daunting task of replacing Klopp and then take a look at Slot’s profile, his style of play and his career to date, and you can see why the club has moved so quickly to get the 45-year-old.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that while virtually no manager will have had the experience of managing a club the size of Liverpool, Slot isn’t far off.

Yes, Feyenoord are not Liverpool. The Eredivisie is certainly not the Premier League. Yet the Rotterdam club is still one of Europe’s most historic teams, draws in nearly 50,000 for every home game and holds huge expectations from fans – something that was only getting more intense each year that their great De Klassieker rivals Ajax pulled further away.

Akin to Liverpool, the club is the beating heartbeat of the community. To lead Feyenoord is to carry the weight of expectation of a whole city. In just three years, with his strong personality Slot achieved this with aplomb.

He engaged with fans, was rarely rattled by the media or pressure and understood the standards expected of him and his players.

If the Kop is looking for someone who has lifted trophies, has ambition and can make an immediate impact on a squad as part of a long-term plan, he fits the bill. Indeed, the success Slot has had in Dutch football in his seven years as a coach is remarkable.


Transformative coach

Arne Slot of Feyenoord celebrates with the Eredivisie trophy during the Dutch Eredivisie match between Feyenoord and Go Ahead Eagles at Feijenoord Stadion on May 14, 2023 in Rotterdam, Netherlands (Photo by Peter Lous/Orange Pictures)

In his first managerial job, he took little Cambuur to a first KNVB Cup semi-final, famously beating Ajax along the way. After two years as an assistant he became first-team coach of AZ Alkmaar, and in his first season was level with Ajax on the home straight of the season before COVID-19 struck.

When he arrived at Feyenoord, the club was in a mess – fifth the season before, embarrassed in Europe, no money, a squad full of loanees and their captain Steven Berghuis had been sold to Ajax.

By the end of that initial campaign, they’d reached the Europa Conference League final and the foundations for his attacking, intense, high-pressing style were already in place.

Come the end of his second, Feyenoord were lifting only their second league title of the 21st century. And whilst they’ve been second best to PSV Eindhoven in 2023/24, they could still end up with a higher points tally than in their championship-winning season and lifted the KNVB Cup, with Champions League football again secured.

It is believed that those making the decisions about Klopp’s successor turned to data to help inform them. This is perhaps one of the big reasons they’ve been drawn to Slot.

He demands a lot from his players, using a 4-2-3-1 shape that requires a combination of intensity, intelligence, power and versatility. Put simply, his Feyenoord have been superb to watch. Aggressive and proactive for the full 90 minutes, no matter the opponent.

Arne Slot, Feyenoord (Getty Images, Via UEFA Handout)

Yet interestingly, when needed he is more than willing to show tactical flexibility to get a result or protect one, be it shifting to a 4-4-2 or reverting to a 4-5-1. His players are also able to take on different responsibilities within a system depending on the situation, shining a spotlight on Slot’s ability both to help players understand a setup and identify other roles where they can excel.

With Slot, the way of achieving success is important but not to the detriment of achieving it in the first place. In the last two league campaigns his side have scored over 80 goals and conceded 30 or less.

No doubt Ajax are a shadow of their former selves, yet the way Feyenoord thrashed them 4-0 and 6-0 this season was stunning – the latter result should have been more.

It was a source of frustration for Slot that Feyenoord did not qualify from their Champions League group, with poor finishing in games they were on top of costing them in all their away matches. Nevertheless, to see a group with no experience of the competition going toe-to-toe with Atletico Madrid in their own backyard was another demonstration of the confidence Slot can instil.


Getting the most out of players

2JFE01G ROTTERDAM , 02-07-2022 , Varkenoord , Pre-season friendly match , season 2022 / 2023 , Feyenoord - Kopenhagen , sipke hulshoff (l) and Feyenoord trainer coach Arne Slot (r) (Photo by Pro Shots/Sipa USA) *** World Rights Except Austria and The Netherlands ***

And this brings us to another vital attribute of Slot’s: his player and squad development. The surprising title challenge and talk of a quadruple perhaps distracted Liverpool fans from the fact that the current team is in a period of transition, and that building a new post-Klopp side will take time.

Therefore, hiring someone with an excellent track record of improving players and developing squads with a blend of youth and experience is a huge plus.

It is an impressive feat that he won the Eredivisie despite keeping only four players from his starting lineup in that Europa Conference League final, with almost no budget to work with.

The most common example given is Turkish international Orkun Kokcu. The academy graduate was an inconsistent No. 10 before Slot transformed him into a versatile, hard-working, ball-playing central midfielder who captained the side to last year’s title.

Under Slot’s tutelage, Kokcu’s successor as captain (after he was sold for a record fee) is Lutsharel Geertruida, who has become one of the most talented young defenders in Europe, capable of playing in central defence, right-back and stepping into midfield.

The left centre-back David Hancko has in two years with Slot become one of the best defenders in the league also capable of playing as an attacking left-back, and somehow is still going under the radar of Europe’s biggest clubs.

2WHX1YR Rotterdam, Netherlands. 11th Feb, 2024. ROTTERDAM, 11-02-2024, Stadium de Kuip, Dutch eredivisie football season 2023/2024. Match between Feyenoord and Sparta Rotterdam. Feyenoord defender Lutsharel Geertruida scores the 2-0 (Photo by Pro Shots/Sipa USA) Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Live News

Under Slot, Quilindschy Hartman, Mats Wieffer, Quinten Timber and Geertruida have all become Dutch internationals. One of the reasons Newcastle loaned their talented winger Yankuba Minteh to Feyenoord was because of Slot, and his incredible progress means many Newcastle fans are now calling for his inclusion in their squad next season.

And while his form has recently dipped, it has been with Slot that Santiago Gimenez has become a prolific striker linked with the likes of Arsenal.

There is no reason why Slot cannot help take jewels such as Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and Conor Bradley to the next level or help refine the erratic Darwin Nunez.


Understanding his role

2WXH5AW Rotterdam, The Netherlands. 31st Mar, 2024. Rotterdam - Feyenoord coach Arne Slot during the Eredivisie match between Feyenoord v FC Utrecht at Stadion Feijenoord De Kuip on 31 March 2024 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Credit: box to box pictures/Alamy Live News

Finally, Slot is also someone who understands a project and his role within it. It would have been easy for him to leave last summer when Tottenham came calling, yet he knew his time in Rotterdam was not finished and the decision has clearly been justified.

This commitment to a group is why so many were willing to give everything for him and buy into what he wants.

His man-management is second to none and he places great weight in creating a positive environment, which is why Liverpool fans should not worry about how A-List players such as Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold will respond to him.

He has an ego and a strong personality but also great empathy. The native link with Virgil van Dijk, Cody Gakpo and Ryan Gravenberch will also be invaluable.

You can already picture the negative headlines, the opposition fans sharpening their knives, the Slot doubters saying ‘I told you so’ if he does not get off to a good start. However, squad development and long-term success is a marathon, not a sprint.

To revert back to the Man United example, Liverpool fans should keep in mind how quickly it can all go wrong with short-termism and lack of clarity.

Arne Slot isn’t the sexy appointment. He isn’t the huge managerial name that many fans would have wanted. However, there are numerous reasons as to why he could well be the right one.

* This is a guest article for This Is Anfield by Joe Baker of The Oranje. Follow on Twitter @BakerJoe21 and @TheOranje1.