The next king of the Kop! Arne Slot is a Guardiola disciple who gets under Mourinho's skin and his teams attack relentlessly like Klopp. He ticks EVERY box for Liverpool
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The next king of the Kop! Arne Slot is a Guardiola disciple who gets under Mourinho's skin and his teams attack relentlessly like Klopp. He ticks EVERY box for Liverpool

May 13, 2024

In the tunnel of the Stadio Olimpico, Jose Mourinho was breathing fire and looking for the man who had got under his skin.

Mourinho’s Roma side had just beaten Feyenoord on penalties to reach the quarter-finals of Europa League, last February, but he was in no mood to be gracious. The Portuguese Man of War had a score to settle with Arne Slot and was determined to say his piece.

Slot, the man who is expected to become Liverpool’s next king, had lit the blue touch paper in a pre-match press conference. The first leg between the sides had ended in a 1-1 draw and ahead of the return, Slot was asked if he had watched any of Roma’s recent games to learn about them.

With a wry smile, Slot replied he’d seen “one or two” but made it clear his idea of learning was watching Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. His style of football and views on how fluently the game should be played are closely aligned with the Catalan’s, not the prosaic functionality of Mourinho.

Being the man that he is, Mourinho was never going to let it lie.

Feyenoord manager Arne Slot is the man expected to succeed Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool this summer

Feyenoord manager Arne Slot is the man expected to succeed Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool this summer

Jurgen Klopp has just five games left as Liverpool manager before he ends a near nine year stay at the club

Jurgen Klopp has just five games left as Liverpool manager before he ends a near nine year stay at the club

Slot led Feyenoord to only their second Eredivisie title in 24 years last season

Slot led Feyenoord to only their second Eredivisie title in 24 years last season

‘Hey!’ he shouted when seeing Slot milling around outside his dressing room. ‘Maybe you should have watched those games – you might know what it takes to be a winner!’

If only he had kept his mouth closed. Three months later, Slot had turned Feyenoord into Champions of The Netherland for just the second time in the 21st century, their charge to the title seeing them rack up 11 straight wins after that trip to Rome.

The significance of the triumph should not be underestimated. There are three huge clubs in The Netherlands but Feyenoord had for long been the poor relation of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, until Slot brought them back to the summit. Does that narrative sound familiar?

To stand any chance of succeeding Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool’s next manager will require a certain character and Slot, evidently, will not be found wanting when it comes to standing up for himself or saying it how he sees it. In many respects, he is similar in that way to the German.

But the next man in charge at Anfield is also going to have to win matches – and lots of them – to prevent a post-Klopp hangover from creeping in and there is reason to believe that Slot will do that: one thing for certain is that there won’t be any Mourinho conservativism.

Two weeks before that game in Rome, Feyenood had played in a KNVB cup tie at home to NEC Nijmegen. Those in the De Kuip stadium had been left flabbergasted by what they had seen from Slot’s team in terms of relentless attacking.

Remarkably, over 120 minutes, Feyenoord had 50 shots on goal, 27 of which were on target. There were 17 corners, an avalanche of possession. Somehow the game finished 4-4 – NEC converted four of their six chances on the counter – but the hosts’ progressed via a penalty shootout.

It wasn’t so much the result that was notable that night, more how Feyenoord had played. Afterwards, phones were buzzing amongst the Rotterdam hierarchy that they felt they had their own version of Guardiola. They also knew that his progress was not going to go unnoticed.

Around that time, Leeds were keen to recruit him and their former Director of Football Victor Orta flew into Rotterdam to see if he could do a deal. Feyenoord were never going to entertain, nor was Slot – a married father to a son and daughter – who had grander ambitions than Elland Road.

The significance of the triumph should not be underestimated, considering how far Feyenoord's stock has fallen in recent years

The significance of the triumph should not be underestimated, considering how far Feyenoord’s stock has fallen in recent years

Feyenoord claimed the KNVB Cup last weekend after a 1-0 win over NEC Nijmegen

Feyenoord claimed the KNVB Cup last weekend after a 1-0 win over NEC Nijmegen

Quinten Timber, twin brother of Arsenal defender Justin, has flourished under Slot's guidance

Quinten Timber, twin brother of Arsenal defender Justin, has flourished under Slot’s guidance

Opportunities presented themselves again last summer. He could have gone to Tottenham, he could have even gone to Chelsea but such was Feyenoord’s commitment to keeping him, Chairman Toon van Bodegom rewarded him with the biggest contract ever given to a manager in The Netherlands.

Nobody had been put on deal of £5million a year but Slot, they were adamant, was worth every penny. He backed up their faith again this season, delivering the KNVB Cup last Sunday with a 1-0 win over NEC Nijmegen – a far more controlled affair than their previous meeting.

Slot has a bond with his players – Quinten Timber, twin brother of Arsenal defender Justin, has flourished under his guidance, as has Slovakian defender David Hancko – that stems from his commitment to improvement every single day.

‘Feyenoord players always say: “Everything the trainer predicted, we saw in the game”,’ says one Rotterdam-based source. ‘Arne is a workaholic. He’s also happy to work with staff and delegate. He has a coach for this, a coach for that, and for that and that and that!

‘They have to feed him with information and then he makes his tactical plan. Feyenoord and Ajax have the biggest fanbases but Slot brought them back to the top. There was Luis Sinisterrra who didn’t work out at first and everyone wanted to give up on him.

‘I don’t know what Slot did but all of a sudden, he was filling his potential. He went to Leeds for £25m, one of Feyenoord’s biggest sales ever. Before Slot he could have gone for a nickel and dime! He puts belief in players. He rebuilt the club when best players left.’

Critics will argue that Slot’s team trail PSV in the title race this time around but the irony is they have more points than at this stage 12 months ago and recently obliterated Ajax 6-0: PSV, for their part, have been like a runaway train, with just one defeat and one draw.

All this has been noted by Liverpool. The key requisites for Klopp’s replacement was that he had to develop players, be able to build a connection with fans and have a commitment to the club’s style of play and he ticks all the boxes.

It would be wrong to bill as Klopp 2:0 but it is easy to see parallels in their respective careers in that they started out at good solid, clubs – for Mainz and Klopp, read AZ Alkmaar and Slot – before going to be grander stages.

Slot, really, could have won the title with AZ but his time there ended in frustration, with the club’s top brass telling him on Saturday morning he had to leave immediately after it became clear he was not going to sign another contract, amid interest from Feyenoord.

Slot's ability to connect with his players has been noted as one of his key strengths

Slot’s ability to connect with his players has been noted as one of his key strengths 

Feyenoord humiliated their old rivals Ajax by beating them 6-0 in Rotterdam earlier this month

Feyenoord humiliated their old rivals Ajax by beating them 6-0 in Rotterdam earlier this month

‘As a club, we have chosen to say goodbye immediately,” director of football Max Huiberts said in a statement on the club’s website. ‘We want to have a head coach leading the team who is fully focused on AZ.’ The manner of that departure still rankles Slot.

How will it end in Rotterdam? That remains to be seen but the end, seemingly, could happen very soon. Liverpool made contact with Feyenoord on Wednesday morning and the intention is for getting the deal done as quickly as possible, once a compensation package can be resolved.

Then Slot will be clear to start a new chapter, for him and for his new club. One thing is for certain: as shown with the episode with Mourinho, he won’t shy away from the fight.

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