Arne Slot to keave Feyenoord for Liverpool

The King is dead, long live the King. Jurgen Klopp will have his final game as Liverpool manager on 19 May after 9 years in charge on Merseyside. He is unquestionably the best Liverpool manager of the 21st century, winning a Champions League, FA and League Cups, but most importantly ending 30 years of despair with the Premier League victory in 2020. The person replacing him is not just filling a job vacancy, they are taking over from a coach approximating a god in the hearts of Liverpool fans. And the man with that daunting challenge is Feyenoord’s Arne Slot.

While it has not been officially announced that the Dutchman will be Liverpool’s next manager, it has been all but confirmed, with just some i’s and t’s to be dotted and crossed. He leaves Rotterdam after 3 years in charge with a definite sense of accomplishment, but also confirming a feeling that Feyenoord was a waystop on a road to bigger things.

Slot joined Feyenoord at the beginning of the 2021/22 season under, if not a cloud, then certainly a wisp of controversy. He was announced in the previous December, having been sacked by AZ Alkmaar for entering discussions with Rotterdam club, with AZ accusing Slot of ‘not being fully focused’ on his current job.

His three seasons in charge of Feyenoord have undoubtedly been successful, with the Conference League final in 2022, a KNVB Cup victory this season, but most importantly winning just the second Eredivisie for the club in 25 years in the 2022/23 season. The footballing philosophy Slot has instilled has also been impressive: high-press, attack-driven, progressive. This high level of football led Slot to winning the Rinus Michels award for Dutch Coach of the Year in two consecutive seasons, only the fourth-ever coach to do so. Virgil van Dijk, captain of both Liverpool and the Dutch national team, recently said that ‘the philosophy he has, [means] that he could be a Liverpool coach’.

Slot leaving one of the three biggest clubs in the Netherlands for the Premier League represents a long historic trend for Dutch football – that of the best never sticking around for too long. Recently it has been shown by the complete gutting of the Ajax squad over the last five years, including Erik ten Hag moving to Manchester United in 2022. Of course, it has been this way for decades, but Slot represents something slightly different to the usual exodus of top playing talent. Here is a manager who himself was a journeyman player, whose coaching talent, in many respects, was cultivated in the lower leagues of Dutch football. He began his career as a coach at PEC Zwolle before taking up an assistant coach role at second division team Cambuur, eventually becoming joint head coach in 2016. He enjoyed great success, nearly gaining promotion and taking the club to the semifinals of the KNVB Cup for the first time in their history.

Next, he left Cambuur to take up an assistant coach role at AZ, where he eventually became head coach. Similarly to Ten Hag, who also managed at a lower level in the Netherlands before eventually joining Manchester United, this talent drain represents both the best and worst of Dutch footballing culture. It shows the quality that the Netherlands is able to foster right down the system, but also how this culture has no ability to retain what it helps create.

This of course is down to money. Slot will be leaving the Netherlands for a league and country that, in a footballing context at least, dwarves the Netherlands financially. So, Slot leaves the Netherlands taking him with a modern, exciting style of football that owes its DNA to Johan Cruyff, Rinus Michels and indeed the legends of the 1970 European Cup winning Feyenoord team. But it’s also another sad reminder that for the ambitious and gifted, Dutch football has a glass ceiling, one that gets closer to the ground with every passing season.

Written by James Turrell