Football Features

Who is Ruben Amorim? Next Liverpool manager favourite’s tactics, playing style and Mourinho 2.0 label rejection explained

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 19:05, 9 April 2024

Jürgen Klopp dropped a bombshell on January 24 when he announced his departure from Liverpool this summer.

The news understandably surprised everyone, reminiscent of Bill Shankly’s exit from the same club five decades prior. Now, we’re left asking who succeeds the German tactician after he transformed Liverpool from a club looking from the outside to arguably England’s finest.

There will be no shortage of candidates, but the fan’s choice, Xabi Alonso, will not undertake what must be deemed an unenviable task. Alonso, who is about to guide Bayer Leverkusen to a first Bundesliga title and subsequently break Bayern Munich’s relentless 11-year monopoly, has decided to remain in Germany, overseeing the club’s forthcoming Champions League campaign.

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The new Mourinho?

One name stands out from the remaining options. Reports even suggested a verbal agreement on a three-year contract had been reached between current Sporting CP boss Rúben Amorim and the Reds, though it’s been swiftly denied.

“It is not believed the Reds have reached a verbal agreement with Amorim as they continue their search for Klopp’s successor when the German leaves at the end of the season,” BBC Sport journalist Mandeep Sanghera, presumably briefed by Liverpool, said.

“It is understood Liverpool are undertaking a thorough and robust process which includes extensive research and due diligence around a number of viable candidates. They do not want get into providing a running commentary on their search but, to suggest a preferred candidate has been identified and acted upon, would be wholly inaccurate.”

Like Alonso, Amorim is heading towards championship success. No stranger to being linked with Europe’s super clubs, the 39-year-old coach sees his present deal in Portugal’s capital expire in June 2026. Relocating from Primeira Liga football to England is a path many have taken before, including his role model José Mourinho, who many have favourably compared him to.

Labelled “The Special One 2.0” in some quarters, Amorim recently distanced himself from the moniker. “It has nothing to do with it, it makes no sense, and I have no illusions about it,” he said. I still remember last year, when everyone was speculating about whether I was going to leave Sporting. There are no comparisons between the great José Mourinho and the Sporting coach.”

Sporting Success Story

Amorim has long been considered one of the highest-rated and most promising coaches outside Europe’s big five leagues. Once concluding a 13-year playing career, during which time he earned 14 senior international caps with Portugal while taking part in two World Cup finals, the former Benfica midfielder was soon appointed Casa Pia manager, albeit overseeing four matches before leaving for Braga though his time wasnt even longer as he took charge of 13 games.

Once the call from sleeping giant Sporting CP was heard, there was no hesitation. Amorim would soon turn their fortunes around after inheriting the gig in March 2020. Building on a fourth-placed finish (albeit playing 11 games and winning six), Amorim ended the club’s 19-year championship drought before claiming a runners-up spot and fourth-place finish before this season’s rejuvenation. With six matches remaining and Sporting having a game in hand, the Lions are four points clear of second-place Benfica.

Impressive results aside, his work behind the scenes has elevated Amorim’s status and likely attracted Liverpool’s attention. Having no access to elite, world-class footballers, he’s become a champion of developing the next generation. Seen as Portugal’s most exciting coaching talent since Mourinho, the Lisbon native prides himself on communication and enhancing those at his disposal. From a tactical standpoint, his exclusive use of a back-three could make things interesting if he switches from one European port to another.

What is Amorim’s playing style?

Since the beginning of his Sporting tenure, Amorim has predominantly used a 3-4-3 (in 188 of his 205 matches), though he’s fielded a two-striker formation on some rare occasions. The oft-familiar 4-3-3, which has served Klopp well, hasn’t been deployed a single time, with 4-2-3-1 (one game), 3-1-4-2 (one game), 3-5-2 (four games), and 5-4-1 (11 games) the other shapes used.

Favouring a back three is necessary to execute Sporting’s possession-based game. During their build-up play, Amorim wants his centre-backs to break the first line through the centre of the pitch as often as possible. With the double pivot dropping back, the central defenders look to play forward into the feet of the midfield pair. Their immediate thought is to find the attackers between the lines and, if they can’t, switch the ball wide to the wingbacks.

Amorim is known to adjust his side’s shape, with the middle centre-back slightly higher. This means the two midfielders spread out and move closer to Sporting’s wing-backs. This, in turn, creates more passing lanes for passes from the wider of the centre-backs into those higher up the pitch. Without the ball, Sporting’s front three press like mad.

“Ruben has a tactical flexibility. He bases it on the opponent, particularly in Europe. He always considers the weaknesses of the opponent,” former Valenciennes assistant manager Joao Nuno Fonseca told Sky Sports.

“He plays a high defensive line most of the time and is good on transitions. It is still a positive game idea based around ball possession. This arrogance in the playing style is very positive for young players because they have this no-fear mentality. That is key.”

Potential winners and losers in the Liverpool squad

If the Reds are to maintain Amorim’s system of choice, we can present several winners and losers from their current squad.

For one, it’s not a question of who lines up alongside Van Dijk but rather whom. A healthy Joël Matip and Ibrahima Konaté make sense. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson become wing-backs, meaning three from Wataru Endō, Alexis Mac Allister, and Dominik Szoboszlai don’t go into two. It’s here Amorim could recreate a tandem which served him well.

Matheus Nunes and João Palhinha forged a successful midfield partnership that complimented each other so well. They were essentially two sides of the same coin, which made their relationship work, operating as the classic ‘number six and eight’ tandem. Nunes, who sees himself more of a ‘number eight’, wins possession and effectively distributes or breaks the lines with his incredible speed and ball carrying. Palhinha, likewise, either through impeccable tackling or good positional sense.

Mac Allister is likely to be guaranteed a starting berth with Endō or Szoboszlai, who have their own particular set of skills, alongside the World Cup winner. Furthermore, given this season’s evidence, Amorim prefers a nine flanked by two wingers. Darwin Núñez and Luis Díaz — who know the Portuguese manager from their periods with Benfica and Porto, respectively —should get the nod, with Mohamed Salah rounding off Liverpool’s attack.

Whoever takes over from Klopp would represent a huge gamble, but the next manager will inherit a battle-hardened squad with the right combination of youth and experience. Nervous supporters will naturally look at Manchester United and see where they are one decade after legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down. However, following a demanding opening spell, Arsenal have shown how far a little patience can go, with Mikel Arteta no longer feeling the heat of 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 said last month.

“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.”