What Arne Slot's first Liverpool press conference reveals about the new era


There were no headline-grabbing soundbites. No bullish promises about starting another trophy-laden era at Liverpool.

But there was much to admire about Arne Slot’s unveiling at the club’s Kirkby training ground on Friday. Confident, relaxed and genuine, the Dutchman comfortably dealt with everything that came his way during nearly half an hour with reporters.

No hint of trepidation at following in the footsteps of an icon in Jurgen Klopp, just pride and excitement as he talked about the challenge he has embraced.

Assistant Sipke Hulshoff and performance coach Ruben Peeters, who have made the move with him from Rotterdam’s Feyenoord, watched on from the back of a packed media room, along with Slot’s agent, Rafaela Pimenta.

The session started with Slot neatly side-stepping a reference to Klopp’s famous ‘Normal One’ comment, a spin on Jose Mourinho’s ‘Special One’ line when he arrived at Chelsea 11 years earlier, at his Anfield unveiling in October 2015 and an inquiry into how he would describe himself.

“I think it’s not about what I tell you now. It’s more special what Jurgen did to this club. When he arrived, he said he was the ‘Normal One’ but what made him special was the impression he left behind. Winning trophies, of course, but also his playing style the fans loved. Maybe he said he was the ‘Normal One’, but the fans see him differently, maybe not as a person, but what he did for the club was more than normal.”

It was refreshing that new sporting director Richard Hughes sat alongside Slot to answer questions about the managerial search and the ongoing transfer window.

Hughes’ predecessors have shunned the limelight and with Slot having the job title of head coach rather than manager, it’s got to be a positive if the former Scotland international is going to have more of a public profile at times to explain the club’s decision-making process.

So what were the main talking points from Slot’s first big outing with Liverpool?

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Transfers

This was never going to be a busy summer for Liverpool in terms of transfers, with fine-tuning rather than major changes required.

They have yet to make their first signing of the Slot era, and it was telling that he repeatedly talked up the talent already at his disposal.

“For me, it’s clear that we have inherited a good team,” Slot said.

“The way I look at football, I can see from the (ongoing) Euros how important it is to work on a daily basis for a longer time with a team. In my opinion, you see a lot of good players (at the tournament in Germany) and not all of them have the same level that they have at their clubs. That proves how important it is to work with players on a daily basis and get the best out of them. That’s something we’re going to do.

“The longer a team plays together, if there’s a good head coach, then normally you will see things improve. I’m fortunate (in) going to a club where not many transfers go out of the club. At Feyenoord, it was almost normal (that) eight, nine, 10 players left the club after every season, so it is more difficult for a manager to get this progress. But here I am expecting him (Hughes) to keep most of our players, and I think he wants that himself, and from there we can only build.”

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Slot talked about the value to be gained on the training ground (Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images)

This summer represents a reset for Liverpool after the greater power and control Klopp secured over his near nine-year reign. As head coach, Slot is comfortable with a “collaborative” approach to transfers involving him, Hughes, owner Fenway Sports Group’s CEO of football Michael Edwards and other senior recruitment figures.

“For me, it’s not a change, as in Europe we work like this. At my former clubs, it was like this always,” Slot said. “There are not many clubs in the world where one person decides everything. It will be a collaboration between people. I don’t think many sporting directors bring in players that the head coach doesn’t like or the other way around. At a club like this, there are many more people than the two of us who can bring their opinion. That’s how I’ve worked in recent years, and it’s how I like to work.”

Patience is required as Hughes sees Liverpool’s transfer activity stepping up later in the window, before the deadline on August 30.

“Speaking industry-wide, when there are major tournaments in the summer, naturally the attention is there. After the flurry there was (at the end of June as clubs did business with an eye on profit and sustainability rules), I think it will calm down a bit now. That would be my prediction for July,” he said.

“Then, when August starts, when there’s been more time to work with players (as clubs complete pre-season and the matches start to matter), then opinions will be more set at football clubs. Then you may see a situation in August where clubs are in a bit of a hurry to get things done. I see a quiet July, and then perhaps a crescendo in August. We need to improve on the training pitch, first and foremost. And with the window open, we will always be opportunistic if we can.”

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The Klopp factor

The German is some act to follow, but Slot spun it into a positive. He’s not having to lift the club up off their knees — the task facing Klopp when he replaced the sacked Brendan Rodgers early in that 2015-16 season.

“Big shoes to fill, but you can also look at it as inheriting a squad and a team which has a winning culture,” he explained.

“One of the reasons to come here is I do feel we have a really good squad. As a manager, you want to work at a club with good players, with the opportunity to win something. The past has shown there is a possibility for Liverpool to win some trophies. I look at being a successor to someone who was successful as ideal, because there is an opportunity to win something. I like to work with players and like to develop them but I like to win as well, and at this club there is an opportunity to do that.”

Slot wouldn’t divulge what he had discussed with Klopp over the phone but he clearly appreciated the German’s gesture of getting Liverpool fans to chant the newcomer’s name as he signed off at Anfield in May: “It was special. Coming over here, without even winning a game yet, and the fans singing my name is a good start.”

What about the mission of trying to create the same kind of close bond with the supporters, and the city of Liverpool, as Klopp struck up? “It will take some time to understand everything. It always helps to get to know the city but I think, as a manager, it helps even more if you win most of your games.

“With Jurgen, it was a combination of getting to know the city, getting to know the style of play fans like. We both like the fans to come into the stadium and see a team that plays with a lot of energy. That is the thing I am focused on most. If we do that in the best possible way, it will probably give me some time as well. If I have time, then I can get to know the city a bit better. But it all starts with improving the team.”

Being authentic is pivotal as Slot looks to make his mark. “It’s got nothing to do with who worked here before. As a manager, you go to bed at night and think about what you’re going to do, what you’re going to tell the players: ‘How do I need to approach them as individuals and as a team?’. It’s not that I have Jurgen in mind and think, ‘What would he say?’. That’s not the way to look at it.”


Contract talks

The fact Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk have entered the final year of their current deals in recent days is a hot topic of discussion. Unsurprisingly, there was no clarity on when or if extensions will be signed by any or all of them.

“I don’t think it would be fair for me to talk about contractual situations. These are private matters between the club and the players,” Hughes said. “The only concern I and Arne have about those situations, and everyone else in the squad, is total commitment from the players to the cause for next season, and we are absolutely convinced that is the case.”

It might mean his captain misses most of pre-season, but Slot wants to see Van Dijk lead their homeland to glory at the Euros. He also sees the form of Van Dijk’s club and country team-mate Cody Gakpo, who is a strong contender for the Golden Boot as the competition’s top scorer, as a major plus.

“Cody is having a very good tournament,” said Slot, before the Netherlands face Turkey in the quarter-finals tomorrow (Saturday). “The last World Cup was very good for him as well. He’s been impressive until now, and I’m hoping he will step up even more. I hope to see them playing England in the semi-finals.”

Slot refused to get drawn into the debate over Alexander-Arnold’s best position, with the England international having shifted from right-back to midfield. “I do have my opinion about where they’re going to play here — but, if you don’t mind, I’m going to talk to them about that first and work with them first before telling you.”

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Slot has been admiring Gakpo’s performances at the Euros (Sebastian Widmann/UEFA/Getty Images)

Slot has previously spoken about his huge admiration for Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Now he will be tasked with trying to break City’s dominance in the Premier League, having won four titles in a row and six of the past seven.

“It’s something to look forward to, but there are many good managers in this league. Pep is certainly one of them. English people like to believe it’s the best league in the world and I believe that as well,” Slot said.

“I was lucky enough to live in an era where I could see his Barcelona team. When Pep left, there became a new era with the rivalry between Liverpool and City. There are many nice teams we will face, starting with Ipswich (the promoted side are Liverpool’s opening-weekend opponents on August 17), which in this moment is the most important one. If you work in this league, everyone gets better every season. So for us, it is important to improve.”

Having already brought in Hulshoff, Peeters and goalkeeping coach Fabian Otte, Slot revealed he is close to making further additions to his staff.

There was also a promise to ensure the pathway from the academy to the first team remains open: “It’s always nice for a club when young players come through the ranks. That always gives energy into a club, so there are not only players brought in from other clubs but also players from the academy. The young players did very well here last season. If they continue doing well, then there’s a fair chance they will play.”

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Playing style

One of the key reasons why Slot was deemed the perfect choice to take over after an extensive search is that his brand of football is similar to Klopp’s.

“The playing style and philosophy attracted us to Arne, based on subjective footballing opinion and data as well. In all the metrics, Arne’s Feyenoord team came out really well,” Hughes said. “The way they played real front-foot, attacking football, playing with intelligence and passion — attributes we welcome here at Liverpool. It fits very well with the squad we have.

“Arne has been very successful with this way of playing (Feyenoord won the 2022-23 Dutch title, a year after making the Europa Conference League final, and lifted the Dutch Cup last season). It’s the most attractive to watch in my opinion. There’s a duty here to grab games by the scruff of the neck. It’s not going to be a hugely different approach to what’s been so successful in the past.”

Slot had turned down numerous opportunities to leave Feyenoord, including interest from Tottenham Hotspur last summer. However, his mind was quickly made up after Hughes flew to the Netherlands to meet him in April.

“If someone wants to convince me, he should talk to me about, ‘I like your playing style’, because otherwise I would have been the wrong fit for this club,” he said. “Richard really knew a lot. He saw a lot of games, and this is something you want to hear — that they don’t only want you because maybe you won the league last season or the cup this season, it has to be more than that. I was impressed by that and things went quite smoothly. I think this playing style will lead to a lot of enthusiasm from the fans. Hopefully it will lead to special things.”

Just don’t tell Slot that he favours a 4-2-3-1 formation. He spoke about giving players “a lot of freedom” in possession to take up “different positions”, but then being “really aggressive” and organised when the team are out of possession.

“I was hoping that if people looked at my team, they wouldn’t say it’s 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. Sometimes it’s a 4-2-3-1, sometimes it’s 4-1-4-1, sometimes we do build up with three,” he said. “If you would have asked me, I would say we played 4-3-3 instead of 4-2-3-1 at Feyenoord.

“I’m curious who told you we played 4-2-3-1? Maybe that one should go get his (coaching) licence or analyse a bit better!”

This was a solid start.

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(Top photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)



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