Enough is said about the wonders of Erik Ten Hag at Ajax. Another Dutch manager doing incredibly well is Arne Slot. After being one of the highest-performing head coaches in AZ Alkmaar’s history, Slot has developed Feyenoord far quicker than expected in his first six months in charge. Following Ten Hag, will Slot be the next Eredivisie manager to earn attention from Europe’s top clubs?

  • by Michael Statham
  • Follow Michael on Twitter @EredivisieMike

Background

Arne Slot had a relatively modest playing career as a midfielder for PEC Zwolle, Sparta Rotterdam and NAC Breda. Since retiring, he became a youth coach with Zwolle in 2013, the club where he broke through as a player and which he represented for 11 years. A year later, he moved to Cambuur, where he rose to the level of assistant manager. Upon leaving in 2017, Cambuur released a statement which gave the first real indicator into Slot’s potential as a coach: “It’s always annoying when someone with lots of quality leaves the club.”

AZ Alkmaar

Two years at AZ under then-manager John van den Brom gave Slot a chance to work at a club which challenged at the top of the Eredivisie, a level of football he had not previously played or coached. He certainly had an influence on the style of play in Alkmaar because the transition was smooth when van den Brom left the club in 2019, and Slot stepped up to gain full control of AZ. The board clearly confident that an assistant could make healthy changes to the club despite not bringing in anybody new.

Although making few key transfers in the summer of 2019, AZ progressed from finishing fourth in the Eredivisie up to second, level on points with Ajax in first in the 2019/20 season that was ended early in the face of the pandemic. Slot impressively followed that up with another Champions League-chasing campaign (more on this later). In two exciting years for AZ, Slot averaged 2.11 points per game in the Eredivisie, which is the highest of any AZ head coach in their history – which includes two Eredivisie title wins.

The past decade has been a very successful time for AZ’s youth academy, and Slot was a major reason why talents such as Teun Koopmeiners, Myron Boadu and Owen Wijndal were able to break through and thrive in the Eredivisie. Tactically, he got the best out of his key players. He employed a 4-3-3 formation with the full-backs getting very high up the pitch to overlap wingers and deliver low crosses; decisions like these were made on data, that Slot’s team could score more goals from low crosses from the byline. Left-back Wijndal (earning 13 Eredivisie assists in Slot’s two seasons) partnered with wingers Oussama Idrissi in 19/20 (scoring 13 and assisting 6 in 25 league games) and Jesper Karlsson in 20/21 (scoring 11 and assisting 9 in 32 matches) on the left wing gave the perfect combination in a well-oiled machine.

Feyenoord

Sadly, in a dramatic story well known to Dutch football fans, Slot didn’t finish the 2020/21 season with AZ. He left a legacy of great football to his then-assistant manager Pascal Jansen, who remains in charge of the club today. Half-way through the campaign, Slot expressed an interest in taking the Feyenoord position. When AZ discovered this, they immediately sacked the 43-year-old, with technical director Max Huiberts stating, “At AZ we want a head coach for the group who is fully focused on AZ.”

Feyenoord struggled to fifth place under Dick Advocaat that year, but Slot was lined up as his replacement ready for 2021/22. Slot’s commitment as a coach was clearly called into question in the way he left AZ; however, you cannot deny that he had ambition to continue growing as a coach, and his development of Feyenoord since Advocaat’s departure in only six months has been fascinating to watch. Slot improved Feyenoord far faster than most people had anticipated.

At the winter break, Feyenoord sit third (as expected), but they are only three points behind the embarrassing riches of Ajax, and four points behind PSV who sit top. Take a look at these goal-scoring stats to compare Advocaat and Slot:

The stark difference in style of play – and goals scored as a consequence – have brought new-found confidence to the team and enthusiasm back to De Kuip supporters. Despite having a young squad – the fourth youngest in the Eredivisie – Slot has enormously altered the playing style. However, he considers older players to be less open to change, and the youthfulness as an advantage: “If you have a young group, then as a trainer you can take the boys through videos in your desired playing style.”

Whilst Advocaat preferred his players not to pressure the ball much when in opposition territory, Slot has developed a more intense stlye which has required his back four to push higher up the field and forward players to hassle opponents when they have possession. Bryan Linssen has been a key component in this change. Linssen has not only become one of the Eredivisie top-scorers, but he also has taken on the role of being a high-pressing striker.

One observation made by many Feyenoord supporters this season is that they are able to dominate games more. Arguably, only once this season (a 3-1 defeat away to Utrecht), have the Rotterdam side been outplayed. In all other matches, they have either been finely balanced, or Feyenoord have deserved to win. This includes the recent defeat to Ajax in De Klassieker, where Ten Hag’s side were limited to only one shot on target in a two-goal win (thanks to a penalty and an own goal). Clearly Slot’s side are still a work-in-progress, such was the size of the job at hand when he arrived, but instilling a stlye which means opponents can barely reach Feyenoord’s own penalty area, and ultimately finishing top of a Europa Conference League group also containing Union Berlin, Maccabi Haifa and Slavia Prague, is an excellent achievement for Slot.

Other stand-out players include Orkun Kökçü in midfield, who has become so comfortable on the ball; Gernaut Trauner has arrived from Austria to strike a great partnership with Marcos Senesi in the heart of the defence; and winger Luis Sinisterra has upped his output in front of goal, notching 14 goals and 7 assists in 28 games in all competitions. Further to this, left-back Tyrell Malacia and right-back Marcus Pedersen have all improved throughout the first six months under Slot, as he moulds them offensively in the same way he was popular for at AZ.

What next for Slot?

Confidence has been restored to Feyenoord after some recent difficult times. They can continue to challenge for the Eredivisie, and they are genuinely one of the favourites for the Conference League. Giovanni van Bronckhorst enjoyed a successful, trophy-laiden spell at the club between 2015 and 2019, including an Eredivisie title, two Dutch Cups, and two Dutch Supercups. Slot has a tough act to follow here, but given time, it looks like he will be able to turn entertaining football into prizes.

Undoubtedly, success in the Eredivisie brings attention from Europe’s top five leagues. With Ajax’s Ten Hag being the ‘poster boy’ for upcoming Dutch managers, Slot now represents someone who can follow suit to build something special at a top Dutch club. He also has the potential to look ahead to a job at an elite club.




Michael Statham (712 Posts)

Writer/interviewer/YouTuber for Football-Oranje. Massive Dutch football fan from the UK. Follow me @EredivisieMike & subscribe to Football-Oranje on YouTube.