Premier – Liverpool have chosen Arne Slot as coach: A leap into the unknown?

It’s been more than three months since Jürgen Klopp attended his own funeral; two more weeks to go, and the funeral procession will disperse for good, looking a little longer today than when Liverpool won the Cup in February. Little did we know then that this trophy, the seventh of his eight and a half year reign, would be the last. We even imagined that others would follow. A second league title that of 2019-20, more Champions League, and why not the FA Cup while we were at it. While himthe greatest manager in Reds history with Bill Shankly, was there.

Announcing his departure in January – a departure that Klopp had informed his leaders of in November 2023 – was a gamble which, at first, seemed to succeed. No one would hold that opinion today. Undermined physically, mentally, nervously, Liverpool declined. The sacred union around his coach is no more, even if nothing can undermine the love devoted to him by the regulars of the Kop and the millions of others who would like to take their place there.

There were these scathing results, like the defeat against Crystal Palace at Anfield (0-1). The elimination in the quarterfinals of the Cup by…Manchester (4-3), and not the MUFC of Sir Alex, but that of ten Hag. The collapse against Atalanta (0-3) in the Europa League. There was the public housekeeping scene with Mohammed Salah on the touchline at the of London Stadium. There were these press conferences during which Klopp could no longer hide his desire to be elsewhere, to end this season too many.

But, despite all this, there remained a ‘plus’. By not waiting for the last second to say goodbye, Klopp had allowed the supporters to mourn him early and, above all, his leaders to prepare more calmly for his succession, which everyone knows will not be not the simplest.

Jürgen Klopp

Credit: Getty Images

Unanimous portraits

Their choice therefore fell on current Feyenoord manager Arne Slot, after Xabi Alonso made it known that he would continue his association with Leverkusen. The identity of Anfield’s crown prince is not a surprise in itself. Liverpool were far from the only major European club interested in Slot. After a notable stint at AZ Alkmaar, he was able to transform a struggling Feyenoord into a regular participant in the Champions League, took the Rotterdam club to the final of the Europa Conference League (2021-22), and has just offer him a Dutch Cup after the championship title acquired a year earlier. This enabled him to win the last two Rinus Michels trophies, which reward the best coach of the season in Holland.

Skeptics will point out that the winner of the two previous editions of this trophy was called Erik ten Hag, and that the current manager of Manchester United also arrived with a reputation for excellence acquired in the Eredivisie, with Utrecht, then at the head of Ajax. The skeptics are, however, much fewer in number than one might imagine. The numerous portraits published in the British media since Slot’s arrival was made official are almost unanimously flattering – and, from the point of view of supporters, reassuring. The opinions of two former Liverpool players, Dirk Kuyt and Sander Westerveldwho had worked alongside Slot when he wore the colors of Sparta Rotterdam, were quoted and re-quoted in full in the English press. “I think it fits perfectly with [ce dont a besoin] Liverpool”, said the second. No one has contradicted him yet.

And yet, mutatis mutandis, Liverpool today faces what Manchester United and Arsenal had to manage after the retirements of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger: how to turn the page after those written, and in what way, by coaches whose name had become synonymous with their club? Because, even if Klopp will have spent “only” eight years and eight months at Anfield, he will have left an imprint comparable to those of his elders.

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Arne Slot

Credit: Eurosport

He took charge of a team which was coming out of a long period of decline – despite a fleeting improvement under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers -, and on which no one would have bet on becoming champions of England and . in the space of less than five seasons. He knew how to blend into the very particular culture of a city and a club which quickly sniffed out impostors, to the point of transforming it himself. And he did this without ever denying a game in which emotion is on edge, a game that Reds fans intend to see preserved by his successor.

Slot, say those who know him, is an ideal candidate in this regard. Pressing, intensity, risk-taking: what made his Feyenoord successful is also what Klopp had built his Liverpool on. He is also – unlike ten Hag, with whom comparisons are inevitable – an excellent communicator and, according to those who met him in the Netherlands, a born leader, a “trainer” in the literal sense.

Which team for Slot?

The transition, in fact, has already begun. Slot will not be “manager” of Liverpool, but “head coach”, a crucial distinction which reflects the desire of the club’s American owners to transform the way it operates, a desire which was theirs before Klopp announced his departure, it should be clarified. Michael Edwards, the man who brought Mo Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and a few others to the club before leaving in 2022, will make his official return to Liverpool this June 1, in a role similar to that of an “executive president”. He will be supported by current Bournemouth sporting director Michael Hughes, who will occupy the same functions at Liverpool. Two solid choices to say the least and which should inspire confidence. In any case, they indicate that Liverpool, unlike Manchester United (which lost David Gill at the same time as Alex Ferguson, we must not forget) and Arsenal (for a time), gave themselves the weapons to operate the “change in continuity” what the club needs.

There remains a factor that Liverpool, its management and its future “head coach” only partially control: the team itself, the raw material that Slot will have to shape in his image. And there, the word “construction site” is not unwelcome. Three of its key elements will soon enter the last year of their contracts: Virgil van Dijk, 33 years old in July, Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose up-and-down performances are like a copy of his club’s mood swings, and Mohammed Salah, 32 next month. One of the first decisions of the new regime in place will be to rule on the future of three footballers inseparable from some of Liverpool’s richest hours

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Salah and Klopp against West Ham.

Credit: Getty Images

The rest of the squad is young, very young, even. Aside from Endo, all of the rookies from the previous three seasons were under the age of 25 at the time of their acquisition. Obviously, age alone is not a handicap, as Arsenal are proving again this season; but Liverpool are not Arsenal, whose young core has been together for much longer, and took three seasons to find its cohesion. Mikel Arteta, moreover, did not inherit a team for whom the Champions League was not just a tournament to participate in, but to win. The context was completely different, as was the pressure. It was only after several years of hard work that Arteta shaped the squad that still hopes to be crowned champions in two weeks’ time. Reds fans should prepare to be patient.

This is why, although Liverpool has tried to ensure as smooth a transition as possible, we are struggling to find certainty regarding the immediate future of the club. This summer’s recruitment, in which Slot will play a much more limited role than Klopp, will be the first test. For the rest, despite all the precautions taken, it will indeed be a leap into the unknown.

Thiago Alcantara and Joel Matip, constantly injured, should leave Liverpool on June 30.

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