'Slot wants his teams to entertain the crowd'

By Arthur Renard (@arthurrenard87) 20 May 2024
Arne Slot talking to players

A former player of the new Liverpool boss at Feyenoord tells Arthur Renard what the club's fans and players should expect

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Dutch football expert Arthur Renard gives a detailed account of what new Liverpool head coach Arne Slot will give to the club, as he speaks to former Feyenoord player Bryan Linssen.

When Arne Slot takes over at Liverpool on 1 June, it will give an interesting dimension to the rivalry of his new club with Manchester City, as the Dutchman thinks about football just like Pep Guardiola.

In several interviews Slot has stated how he has been inspired by the Catalan and so it will be fascinating to see when their teams go head-to-head, with their playing styles based on the very same principles.

Bryan Linssen, who worked under Slot at Feyenoord, remembers how the Dutch coach would show his players game compilations of several attack-minded teams in Europe, with the majority of the clips coming from the Etihad Stadium.

“I remember him showing things from Napoli as well, but it was especially clips from Guardiola, like how they played and how they pressed,” recalls Linssen. “I remember one particular clip of Raheem Sterling in the [UEFA] Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea [in 2021]. You see him sprinting back 70 metres to make a defensive action, which prevented a goal.

Bryan Linssen Feyenoord
Bryan Linssen enjoyed his time at Feyenoord under Slot

“It showed us that as a forward, football is not only about attacking and that the star players also track back 70 metres to help the team, before they go up the field again to make an attacking move. Slot showed us those things to illustrate what he wanted to achieve with us and how fit we had to be in order to achieve that.”

Slot has said how Man City matches have influenced him, with Linssen adding that it gives an insight into how Slot wants his teams to play.

Interestingly though, it’s perhaps two matches against another famous coach, Diego Simeone, which illustrate what Slot has accomplished at Feyenoord and why Liverpool were so keen for his services.

The first meeting of the two, a 2-1 friendly win for Feyenoord over Atletico Madrid in 2021 – which came just after Slot’s arrival in Rotterdam – would set a benchmark which was followed up by many other impressive results.

The second one, a narrow 3-2 away loss in the Champions League this season, identified how Feyenoord’s trajectory was still on the way up.

Despite the defeat, Slot’s team had imposed its attacking football on their opponent, which was reflected in their seven shots on target, a number last bettered against Atletico in the Champions League only by Real Madrid in April 2015, when they recorded eight attempts on goal. 

Perhaps during that second match against Atletico the global footballing world came to see what Slot was all about: high-pressing and an emphasis on attacking football, regardless the opponent. 

Atletico v Feyenoord first leg UCL
The defeat at Atletico in the UEFA Champions League made Europe aware of Feyenoord's attacking ability under Slot

Linssen, who is playing for Urawa Red Diamonds in Japan, was part of that first match against Atletico and remembers it well.

“That was actually the point where the upward trend really started,” explains the forward. “During that match, there was an altercation on the pitch as well, but we stood up for each other and that really sparked a fire within us.

"From there a team spirit emerged where everyone felt, ‘OK, this team is like a family and we are there for each other; we will go through fire for each other.’

"And then we also won that match. So that gave a certain boost and confidence within the team and since then Slot repeatedly said, 'Guys, look, if something happens, we have each other's back.’ And he kept saying that every time and it just gave a certain brotherly feeling.”

It forged a mentality that coincided with Slot implementing his vision within the team. Linssen explains how Slot managed to do that in a relatively short amount of time.

“We went from a pretty defensive playing style to an offensive one under Slot, which was about taking initiative throughout the whole match and pressing high everywhere on the pitch,” he says. “We trained on that from day one. That meant the intensity automatically increased, which obviously required a certain fitness level.”

Linssen explains how Slot increased his players' stamina in a playful way as he interweaved conditional drills in footballing exercises.

“We didn’t really do running just for the sake of running, it was all football-related," he says. "For example, you would play a ball from the halfway line to the goalkeeper and then the defenders had to sprint back 40 metres to receive the ball from the goalie and be able to play from the back.

"The forwards had to run as well so they could apply pressure. We would repeat this many times. So that is running in a football-related exercise: refining your playing style and increasing your stamina levels at the same time.” 

Linssen describes Slot’s playing style as not only very attacking, but also fun to execute.

“It’s attractive football for the fans,” he says, adding that it’s a common characteristic in the Netherlands. “If the Dutch national team wins, but they have played badly, then people are not really satisfied.

"That’s a bit the Dutch culture and he obviously has that as well. Apart from winning you also want to entertain the fans. Slot was like that as a player as well, preferring to shoot a ball in the top corner rather than an easy low ball.”

Linssen praises his former coach's eye for detail, which came to the forefront during match-preparations. “He is a shrewd tactician; he always knows how to find the weak points of the opponent and how his team has to make use of it. He is really good at implementing those details in training sessions prior to games.”

Slot is good at building a team and is renowned for giving young talent a chance, with Mats Wieffer, Quinten Timber (twin brother of Arsenal’s Jurrien Timber) and Quilindschy Hartman making their debuts for the Dutch national team as well.

And, not unimportant to the Liverpool hierarchy, Slot can achieve things with a budget which is not the highest in the league. In the Eredivisie, Feyenoord’s revenue in the 2022/23 season was 99.1m euros, almost half of Ajax's 196.m, but they still won the title.

Quinten Timber
Quinten Timber, twin brother of Arsenal's Jurrien, is among the local talent to have thrived under Slot

This season they won the Dutch Cup and bettered the 82 points that took them to the title in 2022/23, finishing up with 84, seven behind champions PSV. But at least UEFA Champions League football is guaranteed for next season.

The question might be whether Slot can manage star players at Liverpool and while Linssen admits it’s a wait and see, he is confident he can also do it at the very top, which the Dutch player bases on his own experiences at Feyenoord.

“He will call you over to explain why he has made certain choices. He is very honest and that is what players appreciate.

“What I also like is that when he doesn’t play you, he will still treat you the same. Some other managers are more like, ‘OK, you’re not playing this weekend, so you’re not important for me now, I don’t need to talk to you.’

"Slot isn’t like that. He treats everyone the same, regardless whether they’re playing or not. That’s his human side and that’s just nice. He is a very normal and social person with a good heart.”

This honesty and ability to connect with his players and inspire them was shown in a video from last March that Feyenoord posted of Slot giving a dressing-room speech. 

After a 3-2 win over Ajax in the Eredivisie, their first at their bitter rivals in almost 18 years, Slot gave his team an emotional speech after the final whistle at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, that helped to inspire them to the title. 

Watch Slot's speech at Ajax

Slot also has a less serious side to him which Linssen got to know.

“Sometimes he would walk past my table in the canteen and casually say, 'Hey, has someone stolen the vegetables from your plate?’ I’m not the biggest fan of vegetables and when I have eaten them at home in the evening, I don’t feel I need to eat them at lunch. So Slot would make a joke about it, but in that joke there is a grain of truth.”

But joking aside, Slot did change the diet at Feyenoord. “At a certain point we went from a full buffet every morning to a half buffet and then to 25 per cent, in terms of tasty things. It was replaced with food which was better for you, but less tasty.”

Despite this change, Slot’s approach created a good atmosphere inside the club, which had a positive effect on players being able to cope with the increasing physical demands.

“As soon as you play well and the atmosphere in a team is very good, it has an impact on the mental and physical state of players,” explains Linssen. “Slot’s way of training and playing creates so much fun for players, which makes them mentally stronger and therefore don't get as many injuries.

"Slot has been good in managing the workload of players anyway, but it’s all mutually connected, as he makes training and matches enjoyable by the way he lets his teams play. And you always want to be part of that, because it gives you energy, instead of it costing you energy.” 

Linssen thinks Slot will be a good match with Liverpool, as he sees similarities with his club of the last three seasons.

“Slot would be suited to Liverpool, because they are the Feyenoord of England," he says. "Both are from port cities and have a very fanatical fanbase and a stadium with a great atmosphere. But also, since the turn of the century, both clubs have not won a lot of trophies before Jurgen Klopp and Slot took charge of them.

“Klopp has accomplished a masterpiece in Liverpool as he has raised the level, but I think Arne can play beautiful football there as well, as he knows how his teams can entertain the crowd.”

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