Football News

How Van Gaal may have influenced Liverpool’s decision to hire Arne Slot

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 14:30, 2 May 2024

Glen Johnson believes Arne Slot’s admiration of Louis van Gaal may have contributed to Liverpool reportedly approaching the Feyenoord manager as Jurgen Klopp’s successor.

Klopp dropped a bombshell earlier this year when he announced his departure from the Reds once this season ends. His announcement, reminiscent of Bill Shankly’s exit five decades prior, surprised everyone, leaving many to question who succeeds the German tactician, someone who had transformed Liverpool from a club looking from the outside to arguably England’s finest.

There were immediate links with Bayer Leverkusen boss Xabi Alonso, who enjoyed an illustrious playing career at Anfield; however, the Spaniard decided to remain in Germany, overseeing the newly-crowned Bundesliga champion’s forthcoming Champions League campaign. Another potential candidate was Rúben Amorim, but he’s expected to stay at Sporting CP, where he can lead the Portuguese side to a second championship in three seasons.

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It seems that Slot will be given the unenviable job of following Klopp. Last summer, he extended his contract in Rotterdam following heavy coverage of his succeeding Antonio Conte as Tottenham’s full-time head coach, and much to disappointed Feyenoord supporters, he’s not expected to let this opportunity coaching in England’s top division pass him by.

A largely unknown figure outside the Netherlands, he departs having transformed Feyenoord, where he’s collected one Eredivisie title and, more recently, the Dutch Cup (KNVB Beker). The Rotterdammers will finish as this season’s runners-up; it’s this ability to do more with little that has impressed the returning Michael Edwards.

Johnson, armed with knowledge of Slot’s fondness of Van Gaal, feels it’s studying the legendary Dutch boss played a factor behind his seemingly imminent appointment.

“To be honest, I haven’t seen many games that he’s managed, but I know he is very close to [Louis] van Gaal and people like that,” he said.

“So if he’s taken any leaves out of their books, like Brendan [Rodgers] did with Mourinho, then you’re learning from one of the best. They’ve got their eyes on him and Eddie [Michael Edwards] the sporting director knows exactly what he’s doing.

“And he’s a big fan of Van Gaal, so I’m sure that’s where the interest has come from. Liverpool make these signings and they usually get it right. It’s a tough job for him to go into and it’s a totally different league, but he’s going to inherit a fantastic team. So let’s see what he can do if he is the right man.”

As coaches, Van Gaal and Slot never crossed paths. Still, there was an interesting exchange during the 2023 Eredivisie Awards Gala, where the latter picked up his second Rinus Michels Award, presented to the Eredivisie’s best manager.

When presenter Joost van Gangelen asked the former Ajax and Man Utd boss if he’d do anything different in his career, the former boss quipped, “Not in football. With the media… I could have done that differently,” he began. What could I have done differently? I should have answered much more calmly. In general, I am very emotional, and I raise my voice.”

The now-retired manager added, “Then it would have been better if I had done it calmly… Just like Arne, I think he is here. Arne does all that. I have a lot of admiration for that. What do I admire about him? Is he always calm? Well, that’s what I wonder,” he said, laughing.

“I am certainly always calm,” replied the Feyenoord coach.”But that doesn’t mean I could always put myself very well in Louis’ shoes about how he dealt with the media. I perhaps just managed to swallow that a bit better.” Van Gangelen then asked: “Are you ever calmer than you are? For example, if you have to answer a leading question.”

Slot responded: “No, then I am generally prepared for that question and know how to respond, but in my own way. I do have that calmness of my own, yes.”

Edwards, renowned for utilising a cutting-edge team of data analysts and scouts, will undertake the search for Klopp’s replacement. Previously the club’s sporting director between 2016 and 2022, he returned earlier recently as their chief executive of football.

He will likely have noticed that since Arne Slot took charge of Feyenoord in July 2021, he matches two Klopp-esque metrics or is in the ballpark. One is the most possessions won in the final third: Feyenoord boasts north of 720, while Liverpool is not far behind with just over 706. The other concern is the most points from losing positions; both are level (62).

It should be noted that Slot is not a Klopp regen. From a tactical standpoint, he prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation, whereas Klopp often opts for a traditional 4-3-3, favoured by many Dutch coaches. After a modest playing career spanned nearly two decades, Slot was quickly appointed Cambuur’s interim manager before AZ offered him a full-time deal.

After just one season in Alkmaar, where he could have won the league if not for a global pandemic, Feyenoord was convinced of his abilities, and Slot was able to turn their fortunes around quickly. After a third-place finish, he ended the club’s six-year championship drought, and this season, he is likely to secure a runners-up spot after winning the club’s 14th Dutch Cup.

The next manager to take over from Klopp would be a risky move, but they would have the advantage of managing a team that has been through many challenges and gained valuable experience. This suggests that the new coach should be able to teach and guide the team effectively; therefore, a coach like Slot would be a good fit for the squad. It could also be argued that Liverpool needs a manager who can connect with and manage the players well, especially since they are more experienced now.

While some may nervously look at Manchester United’s progress since the departure of legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson a decade ago, Arsenal has demonstrated the significant impact that patience can have. Despite a challenging start, Mikel Arteta has emerged as a more confident manager, no longer feeling the heat of potentially losing his job.

“I really think it is the perfect moment for a new manager and not the wrong one because we didn’t win everything, we left spaces,” Klopp told reporters.

“Go at City after Pep Guardiola and you need to be champion 10 years in a row to achieve the same! Maybe it was good for that reason that we didn’t become champion with 97 points.

“The people here are different. The people gave Bill Shankly the chance, and what came after Bill Shankly, and they are all bigger than we are, and the people will understand in the end that this was a fantastic time and we all enjoyed it like hell.”