Subject: Let us help you! (Manager search)
It’s been a week, hasn’t it? I understand. This is a tough time for you, what with no permanent manager in place (yet) and your Director of Football v-blogging the fans from various undisclosed locations in Italy.
But that’s why we’re here. We are continuing to provide our unique Managerial Evaluation Services to you, and as a token of our goodwill maybe you can, IDK, focus your time on a new Director of Football? Our next target is a bit off the radar to many, but we think he’s worth checking out.
We’re here for you, Dan.
Cartilage Free Captain
Name: Arne Slot
Cumulative ELO rating: 1759
None (Welcome to Tottenham!)
Arne Slot (pronounced “Schlott”, depending on who you ask) had a relatively undistinguished career as a professional footballer, but it was a long and successful one — he played for 18 seasons in the Dutch league system, hanging up his boots in 2013 at PEC Zwolle. That’s also where he got his start in management, starting out as a youth coach at Zwolle before becoming an assistant at SC Cambuur. He was an assistant at AZ Alkmaar before being promoted to manager in 2019; that season was later cancelled by COVID-19, but AZ was second via goal differential that season with Slot praised for his team’s offensive efficiency. Slot was eventually fired, Redknapp-style, in December of 2020 because he was distracted having been negotiating to take over as Feyenoord manager, where he remains. Last season he took Feyenoord to the final of the Europa Conference League (where they lost to Roma) and are currently top of the Eredivisie this season with a six point lead over Ajax.
Look, I’m going to be 100% honest here — I have not watched any full Feyenoord matches this season, and I’ve only sorta kinda paid attention to some highlight videos on YouTube. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on what Slot might bring to the table, so consider this more of an amalgamation of other research done by people way smarter than me, like Nathan A. Clark from The Extra Inch (whom we’ll get to in a second).
Let’s start again with Arne Slot’s own words.
“[Feyenoord] are an attack-minded team that likes to have a lot of the ball, and we play with a lot of intensity. When we don’t have the ball, we want to win it back as quickly as possible by being aggressive and pressing to win back possession. I think we are a team that is difficult to beat.
“You [have to] focus on your opponent, the qualities they have and their weaknesses. That is what the match plan is for.
We haven’t talked about Roberto De Zerbi (yet!) but Slot’s tactics and De Zerbi’s are similar. Both play in a back four with narrow fullbacks, a two-man central midfield pivot, and a bank of four attackers, usually with one recognized striker. Feyenoord under Slot attempt to progress the ball centrally via the CBs to the CMs and don’t often use the fullbacks as an outlet for progression. In fact, the CBs sometimes sometimes bypass the fullbacks entirely, though this may have more to do with the particularities of the Eredivisie.
The idea is to compress and narrow the defense which in theory provides space for the wide midfielders to get in behind and put in crosses, and also to create overloads in quadrants to stretch defenses. Slot also expects his players to make late runs in behind when the opportunity presents. The fullbacks do push forward when the wingers are also in the attacking space, but they also tend to drift inside and can function as an extra central midfielder in build-up play to aid in ball progression and support. Feyenoord tend to press and counterpress high, though can do so selectively as a means of forcing passes wide into more dangerous areas.
It’s a very fast and technical style of play and requires both good passing skills as well as a great deal of creative freedom. It’s not about automations, but about constant movement and finding space between the lines to receive a pass. Slot’s sides pass the ball well and quickly, trying to break lines and get the ball into wide attacking areas as soon as they can.
The downside to this, as indicated by Nathan Clark in an excellent tactical video posted on /r/coys, is that Slot’s offense at Feyenoord is ultimately too reliant on the wide attackers to create chances — if you don’t have creative wides who can put in a good cross (or can cut inside and shoot longer shots), your chances are fewer and likely low xG.
You see some of that in Feyenoord’s stats this season — while they currently lead the league, they are third (by some distance) in both goals scored and xG, and they’re currently outpacing their xG by about ten goals. The good news is that they’re finishing well, but it does make you wonder if it’s sustainable.
All this presents something of a conundrum for Tottenham, in that Spurs don’t really operate with traditional wingers. They have players like Son, Richarlison, and (yes) even Bryan Gil who can function in those roles, but it isn’t necessarily their strength. I wonder, for example, how a player like Dejan Kulusevski would operate in an Arne Slot side. (Maybe he’d be great!)
But some of this can be fixed, and Slot has done very well in just one season to turn around a Feyenoord team that finished fifth in the Eredivisie the season before he joined under Dick Advocaat. If you read the above and think this sounds an awful lot like the way Leeds play, well I thought so too, and in fact Slot was linked to Elland Road after Jesse Marsch was sacked earlier in the season (he turned them down).
Slot comes to the table with a progressive style of football that, when it works, sure looks like a lot of fun to watch. He’s described as an “attacking maniac” and with a football intelligence that rivals Pep Guardiola. I can’t seem to find much about his personality and what kind of manager his is (i.e. is he a dickhead) but his players seem to like him a lot, he’s fluent in English, and he seems very keen to want to come to England. All good! Slot also has a reputation for taking average players and maximizing them within his system.
But he hasn’t been a top flight manager very long, and never in a league like the Premier League. He’s also very ambitious — he left his previous job because he was in the middle of negotiating to join Feyenoord. That’s the worry, and it’s not one to be overlooked. That said, he’s compared in terms competence and communication skills similarly to his compatriot, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, who seems to be doing just fine thank you very much.
Likeliness of being hired:
I’d say pretty good if offered the job and a good wage. There have been background reports that Slot is interested in moving to the Premier League, and Feyenoord already seem resigned to him leaving. I mentioned earlier that he was linked with Leeds this January, and quite frankly he’d have been perfect (likely too perfect) for them. I suspect he wouldn’t leave the Netherlands for a mid-table Premier League side, but I bet he would for a club right on the cusp of Champions League like Tottenham, though I wonder whether he has the gravitas to turn Spurs into title contenders. My sense is he’s not Tottenham’s top choice (Hi, Julian) but he’s definitely on the list, wherever that hypothetical list is, and my guess is he’d be keen to follow in Erik Ten Hag’s footprints to England.
Grade if Hired: B+
I kind of like this guy. His football is good, he seems like a decent human being (from the little I can find of him) and while he’s ambitious he’s closer to Pochettino’s tactics than Mourinho’s and that’s really the thing. I have some stylistic questions about his offense and wonder about adapting this current Spurs squad to his style of play, but those concerns are pretty much shared with every potential managerial target at the moment. Slot isn’t my first choice, but I wouldn’t be upset if he’s the one we eventually land on.