Tottenham: Why Arne Slot, the Eredivisie’s Pep Guardiola, is perfect manager for Spurs rebuild
Daniel Levy wants Tottenham’s next head coach to return the team to “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” football, so Feyenoord’s Arne Slot, who is in pole position for the job, can claim to be a great fit.
Slot’s side not only won the Eredivisie at a canter, they did so with a flourish, playing intense, front-foot football, characterised by a fast possession game and non-stop pressing.
His high-octane approach has already won him comparisons with Pep Guardiola, Marcelo Bielsa and Roberto De Zerbi.
As well as winning in style, Slot has a fine record at improving young players and quickly building a squad in his image, helping persuade Levy to prepare a formal approach for the 44-year-old, who is keen on succeeding Antonio Conte.
Despite a commitment to entertaining, he is no Ossie Ardiles; Feyenoord have the second-best defence (as well as the best attack) in the Dutch top flight, and Slot demands his players work tirelessly without the ball.
A disciple of Guardiola, he often uses the Catalan’s teams as an example to his players. In his first team meeting at Feyenoord, Slot reportedly played clips of the 2021 Champions League Final between Guardiola’s Manchester City and Chelsea, explaining that the reason there were so few chances, in spite of the attacking quality on show, was down to the diligence of the both sides’ defensive runs.
This Spurs squad is used to an entirely different style, after three successive counter-attacking coaches, but the Dutchman, formerly a midfielder, would back himself to quickly change that.
After swapping AZ Alkmaar (who he led to joint-top of the Eredivisie when the 2019-20 season was called off) for Rotterdam, Slot inherited a Feyenoord squad who had played uninspiring, defensive football under his predecessor and quickly got them back on the front foot. Part of his motivation for taking the job was said to be a desire to prove it could be done.
Spurs need more than just a progressive coach, however; they desperately need a unifying leader who can restore the “values” and “standards” which Harry Kane believes the club has lost since the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino.
Slot may not be the big-name appointment which might persuade Kane to stay, but he is a charismatic and strong-willed character, adored by his players.
Many, past and present, are on record saying he is the best coach they have worked with, while Arsenal’s Reiss Nelson, who spent last term on loan at Feyenoord, has credited Slot with helping him discover his “rhythm” ahead of an important series of cameos this season.
A video of one of Slot’s team talks (which are always conducted in English) after Feyenoord’s win at rivals Ajax in March offered a good example of his cogency and charisma. He finished with the line, “We’re going to make this season special”, prompting roars of approval from the dressing room.
Perhaps Slot’s most impressive achievement at Feyenoord, who have lost just once going into Sunday’s final day, was improving a squad which was gutted last summer following an encouraging third-placed finish in his first year in charge.
1995–2002: FC Zwolle
2002–2007: NAC Breda
2007–2010: Sparta Rotterdam
2009–2010: FC Zwolle (loan)
2010–2013: PEC Zwolle
2019–2020: AZ Alkmaar
Europa Conference League runner-up: 2021–22
Just four of the starters from the XI that reached last season’s Europa Conference League Final (losing to Jose Mourinho’s Roma) remained at the club, and Slot lost all four of his highest scorers.
But he rebuilt an even better side on a shoestring budget (a fraction of rivals Ajax’s), underlining his quality as a coach. As Spurs prepare for a rebuild of their own, this feat of regeneration should be particularly encouraging.
A Spurs squad which should feature the likes of Destiny Udogie, 20, Pape Matar Sarr, 20, Djed Spence, 22, Oliver Skipp, 22, Pedro Porro, 23, Dejan Kulusevski, 23, and several players aged 24 to 26 should be exciting for a coach who prefers working with youth.
The likes of Orkun Kokcu, 22, have been transformed by Slot at Feyenoord, while Mats Wieffer, 23, a midfielder signed from the Dutch second-tier, and youth product Quilindschy Hartman, 21, are now full Dutch internationals. Mexican striker Santiago Gimenez, 22, has scored 15 league goals in his first season in Europe.
Insofar as there are nagging concerns about Slot, there are less about what he is than what he is not.
He is not Pochettino, nor Julian Nagelsmann, both seeming passed up by Levy, despite the backing of large swathes of the fanbase, although the Spurs chairman wants a coach in the mould of Pochettino in 2014: young, hungry and on the way up.
And importing from Eredivisie can be a particular gamble. For every Erik ten Hag, who Levy regrets overlooking in summer 2021, there is a Frank de Boer, who Levy will not regret ignoring in 2014. De Boer won four successive titles in his homeland, albeit with Ajax, but tanked at Crystal Palace.
The Premier League would be a huge step up for Slot and although those that know him think he could have a similar impact to De Zerbi at Brighton, he would be walking into a far more chaotic and pressured environment.
There are risks in appointing any manager, however, and if Levy has learned anything from the past three-and-a-half years it is there are no sure things at this level. After his big-name, proven winners failed to deliver, the chairman is aiming to find a coach more in tune with Tottenham’s ethos — and it is easy to see why Slot has caught his eye.