Who is Arne Slot? The Guardiola disciple who coaches like Mikel Arteta

Who is Arne Slot? The Guardiola disciple who coaches like Mikel Arteta
Arne Slot led Feyenoord to the Dutch league title in May last year - Getty Images/Olaf Kraak

Arne Slot is the disciple of Pep Guardiola who has strong similarities to Mikel Arteta and Roberto De Zerbi in the way he coaches and the intense playing style he demands.

Slot’s Feyenoord side play some of the most exciting, entertaining, high-energy, attacking football on the Continent. It should come as little surprise then that Liverpool are interested in hiring him as Jürgen Klopp’s successor – with Slot a friend of Klopp’s assistant Pep Lijnders, who is also leaving Anfield.

The 45-year-old former midfielder is renowned for his precise coaching methods and his attention to detail. So precise is he that that the ‘rondo’ – the training drill whereby players attempt to keep the ball while a smaller group aim to intercept – is made extremely specific at Feyenoord.

Slot is concerned the drill does not allow players to ‘scan’ (to check the options on the pitch) which is one of the fundamentals of passing and so he insists that they can take only one touch, that they cannot return possession to the player who passed to them and, crucially, that the ball always stays below the knee. Players are even encouraged to consider which foot they are passing with.

Telegraph Sport learnt this, as Slot led Feyenoord last year to only their second Dutch league title this century, after being given detailed access into the way he works and his methodology – and ambition.

This campaign Feyenoord have won the Dutch Cup and are second to PSV Eindhoven in the league – although it should be factored in that he is operating with a fraction of his rivals’ finances and also those of Ajax, who are 24 points behind.

Feyenoord may traditionally be the third biggest club in the Netherlands but that gives a false impression. They are far behind the Dutch giants in terms of budget and had been, in recent years, frankly one of its most boring, defensive teams especially under Slot’s predecessor Dick Advocaat. How that has changed.

Dutchman long fancied by English clubs

Liverpool are not the first Premier League club to take an interest in Slot who joined Feyenoord from AZ Alkmaar in 2021. But Liverpool are clearly the biggest and most serious proposition. Leeds United tried to hire him in February 2023 after sacking Jesse Marsch (and he would be a natural successor to Marcelo Bielsa) but Slot stayed in Rotterdam.

Tottenham Hotspur then made a move before they eventually brought in Ange Postecoglou – with Slot surprisingly deciding to stay at Feyenoord and signing a new contract.

Given that Feyenoord’s style of play is so demanding, it is impressive they suffer so few injuries – in contrast to Leeds under Bielsa, which is why Feyenoord were so interested in Slot.

Slot’s eye for detail fuels Feyenoord success

The demanding attention to detail is a theme. For example, Slot has concluded that in training sessions for the days immediately after games the players should work in a space no longer than 40 metres. If they play in bigger areas it means they have to accelerate more and sports medical science has proved that running above 20kmph risks more muscle injuries.

Slot does not play games of 11 vs 11 in training as most coaches do and works hard on the mental side of the sport. He has even convinced the Feyenoord players that the more games they play the stronger they will become.

It does feel that it is only a matter of time before Slot makes his move to England. There is, of course, an obvious comparison with Manchester United’s Erik ten Hag who moved from Ajax, and there is always that concern over how Dutch coaches fare outside of the Eredivisie which is clearly not one of Europe’s strongest leagues.

Yet Liverpool will certainly have run the numbers and the data on Slot, who now has Champions League experience beating Celtic and Lazio but failing to get through the group, and will have been impressed by what they have seen. Not least because his football and pressing game is far more attacking than Ten Hag’s. Interestingly when Ten Hag won the league with Ajax it was Slot who won the Rinus Michels Award for Eredivisie manager of the season.


Statistics that show why Slot may be perfect fit for Liverpool

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Feyenoord finished third in Slot’s first campaign – they were fifth the season before. They subsequently were first and are now second. But that does not provide the full picture as Slot completely overhauled their negative playing style. The club wanted him to do it and, interestingly so did the players, with the coach exploding the myth that ‘you can only work with what you have got’. Instead, with a fierce pressing game in which Feyenoord go man-for-man with their opponents all over the pitch, he showed that players can change.

Interestingly it was one of his main motivations for joining Feyenoord: to show the world it can be done.

For example in Slot’s first team meeting he played clips of the 2021 Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City and asked the simple question: why were there so few chances despite there being so many good attacking players?

The answer was equally as simple: it was because all those attackers also made incredible defensive runs to nullify their opponents. Slot then contrasted that with the lack of running Feyenoord had completed the season before and compared the distance covered – far less – to his previous AZ side.

Arne Slot
Slot oversees a training session ahead of 'De Klassieker' – the match between Feyenoord and Ajax – in March 2023 - EPA/Koen van Weel

His approach was also simple – as is his mantra: his teams defend by attacking. While Klopp’s Liverpool wait for ‘pressing triggers’ Slot asks his players to press all the time which sounds exhausting but, after a few weeks, he believes becomes second nature.

The next part of that is to try to control games by emphasising ball possession which is straight out of Guardiola’s play-book.

Slot believes that more defensive football – as espoused by Jose Mourinho – is not only more tiring but less stimulating for the players. He argues they cannot improve by primarily thinking about defending.

In the Netherlands they call it indoctrineren (indoctrinate) and Slot bombarded the players with stats, with clips and with far more sophisticated and intense training sessions in which every minute is accounted for. It is a clear ‘train-the-way-you-play’ approach.

Importantly, Slot has achieved all of this on a shoestring – Feyenoord have made significant money in the transfer market every season he has been there – and he has undoubtedly improved players and their value. He likes to work primarily with young players and is popular in the dressing room. There is an inherent risk, given the league he would be coming from, but Slot certainly appears to fit the mould of a ‘head coach’ whose priority is the training pitch, which Liverpool want, rather than a manager in their new structure led by Michael Edwards and director of football Richard Hughes.

Arne Slot and his methods

Slot's Feyenoord were built on a shoestring but delivered fierce pressing and exciting attacking football

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