Liverpool target Arne Slot – the ‘control freak’ inspired by Pep Guardiola – BBC.com

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Liverpool target Arne Slot – the ‘control freak’ inspired by Pep Guardiola – BBC.com


Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Feyenoord beat NEC Nijmegen 1-0 to win the KNVB Cup on April 21

  • Author, Arthur Fox
  • Role, Dutch football writer

Doing well in the Dutch Eredivisie does not guarantee success in the Premier League, but the Liverpool hierarchy must be confident that Arne Slot can continue his fine achievements in England.

So far, he has consistently outperformed his teams in the Netherlands. Just ask Dutch legend Marco van Basten, who was extremely impressed with his work.

“I really think he is so good,” the former striker told Rondo, a Dutch talk show on Ziggo Sport. “He could end up anywhere. Bayern Munich, Liverpool, etc. I’m really convinced of that.”

Liverpool’s owners are adamant about what their club will be like, as Slot has impressed them with his attacking mix of football, constantly pressing opponents high up the pitch – reminiscent of the football played at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp.

Just like the German manager, Slot is willing to take this approach against anyone.

A telling example was Feyenoord’s Champions League match against Atletico Madrid earlier this season.

Their intensity helped them achieve seven shots on target, a total last bettered by a visiting team against Atletico in the Champions League when Real Madrid had eight in 2015, according to Opta.

This season was Feyenoord’s first Champions League campaign in six years, but they excelled at winning the ball high up the pitch, leading to some dangerous situations.

In their six group matches, they won the ball 59 times in the final 40 meters of the pitch in open play, with only four teams doing so more often.

Slot’s teams play well in possession and his players overlap to provide an extra layer of unpredictability.

“I have spoken to him several times and what he does and what he sees is very good,” says Van Basten. “He gets on very well with the team, is very tactically astute, knows how to explain things well and is calm and intelligent.

“I think he can go to any club, yes. Even very difficult clubs, because he is so intelligent.”

Aside from his tactical expertise and meticulous preparations, Slot is also skilled at building a team with modest resources.

Seven players who started the 2022 Europa Conference League final defeat to Roma left Feyenoord that summer. Slot, however, has built a team with new signings such as Santiago Gimenez, Sebastian Szymanski and Mats Wieffer – all for nominal fees – that will prove key to winning a first Dutch title in six years.

Last summer they again lost important players like Szymanski and Orkun Kokcu, but once again had a good season, winning the Dutch Cup last Sunday.

Feyenoord have spent around £30m on players in each of the last two campaigns, while Ajax have spent almost £100m in each of theirs.

On top of that, Slot gives young talents a chance.

Quinten Timber – twin brother of Arsenal’s Jurrien – and Quilindschy Hartman have developed very well under his tutelage and become mainstays of the team, with both also making their debut for the Dutch national team this season.

Slot takes inspiration from Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, studying every little detail.

“I definitely don’t want to compare myself to Pep, but he’s a control freak just like me,” Slot said in an interview with Voetbal International in May 2023.

“If I look at myself, I try to win a match in the week before its match, conveying training, pre-match discussions and tactics to the players as perfectly as possible.”

He said watching Guardiola’s teams gave him the “ultimate joy of football”.

“There is no team in the world I would rather watch than Manchester City, followed by Napoli, Arsenal and Brighton,” Slot added.

“But City – and again, I don’t intend to compare ourselves to them – have a similar style of play to the one we want to play with Feyenoord: 4-3-3, building from the back , wanting to put pressure on quickly.”

Last season, Leeds and Crystal Palace were reportedly interested and Tottenham were very interested in his services, but Slot opted to stay in the Netherlands, where he had just won the title and was planning to guide Feyenoord to the Champions League.

Van Basten doesn’t think a move to the Premier League would be a step too far.

“If you play AZ and Feyenoord [good] football, you will also play the big clubs [good] football,” says Van Basten.

“I think it would become easier for him because you have better players who understand what you want faster. These players are also more stubborn, but I think Slot is smart enough to handle that.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Arne Slot led Feyenoord to the Eredivisie title in 2022-23

The Dutchman has a calm and balanced approach, which works well with his players and was highlighted during one of his post-match dressing room interviews last season.

After Feyenoord beat rivals Ajax for the first time in the league in 17 seasons, a video released by the club showed Slot speaking about the importance of the coming weeks.

“Because it’s just a victory. It’s not more than a victory, it’s a big victory, but it’s not more than a victory,” Slot said in the video. “We have a bigger goal this season than just winning for the first time in 17 years in Amsterdam. Our goal is bigger than that.

Feyenoord thus won the championship title.

This year they are in good form again and could even secure a higher points total than last season’s 82, but PSV’s impressive form means they will likely have to settle for second place, which would guarantee always football in the Champions League.

Now Slot could be ready to embrace another rivalry, this time with a manager he admires so much in Guardiola.

The Dutch boss would say: go for it.

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