Arne Slot Could Hand Liverpool Lifeline to One of “Europe’s Best” Players

Arne Slot, primarily experienced in managing within the Netherlands, has encountered several potential Liverpool players in the past. The Dutchman emerges as the leading candidate to succeed Jurgen Klopp at Anfield, with club officials finalising a compensation agreement with Feyenoord, potentially totaling £9.4m. With Slot publicly expressing his desire to join Liverpool and all arrangements in order, it appears increasingly probable that he will fulfill his wish and assume the role of the Reds’ next first-team manager.

It’s no surprise that the Dutch players in the Liverpool squad are the most acquainted with Slot. Captain Virgil van Dijk has already backed his compatriot as a potential successor to Klopp, praising him as ‘one of the better Dutch coaches currently,’ and sees him as a potential future coach for Liverpool.

Van Dijk, Cody Gakpo, and Ryan Gravenberch have closely collaborated with Slot’s trusted assistant manager, Sipke Hulshoff, over the past 18 months. Van Dijk, also holding the same position with the Netherlands national team, has praised Hulshoff for his work.

Initially starting his senior career with FC Groningen, Van Dijk moved to Celtic in June 2013 before Slot began his coaching career. However, they faced off during Slot’s playing days, with Van Dijk playing against Slot’s team in 2013.

While Van Dijk never played against a team managed by Slot, his Dutch teammates at Liverpool, Gakpo and Gravenberch, have encountered Slot’s teams. Gakpo first faced Slot’s team with PSV Eindhoven when Slot was with AZ Alkmaar.

Slot served as assistant manager at the club when the forward made only his second-ever Eredivisie appearance for PSV, entering as a last-minute substitute in a 3-1 victory in December 2018. Gakpo then played for 79 minutes in a 1-0 loss the following May, coinciding with Slot’s promotion to AZ manager that summer. Later, he took over as Feyenoord manager in the summer of 2021.

Initially, Gakpo faced challenges against Slot’s teams, as PSV suffered a 4-0 defeat at home to AZ in October 2019. Feyenoord then triumphed over PSV by the same scoreline at the Phillips Stadion in September 2021.

In the following May, Gakpo netted a brace in a 2-2 draw against Slot’s Feyenoord. PSV ultimately finished 10 points ahead of their rivals, securing Champions League qualification at their expense.

In September 2022, during Gakpo’s final encounter with Slot’s Feyenoord before his transfer to Liverpool, he scored once and provided three assists, securing a thrilling 4-3 victory for PSV.

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Gravenberch’s encounters with Slot’s Feyenoord were less eventful. As a 19-year-old, he played the entire 90 minutes in both home and away matches during the 2021/22 season, helping Ajax secure 2-0 and 3-2 victories at De Kuip and the Johan Cruyff ArenA, respectively, on their way to winning the title.

Apart from Gakpo and Gravenberch, Kostas Tsimikas, another Liverpool player, faced Slot’s team during his time in the Netherlands. While on loan at Willem II in the 2017/18 season, Tsimikas played the full 90 minutes in both matches against AZ, where Slot was an assistant manager. Unfortunately, Willem II suffered defeats of 3-2 and 2-0 in those encounters.

Time will reveal if this familiarity will benefit players, especially if Slot takes on the role of Liverpool manager. However, his appointment could potentially have a greater impact on another Reds defender, Sepp van den Berg.

Although Slot concluded his playing career at PEC Zwolle, it’s where the 22-year-old initially made his mark before his move to Liverpool in June 2019, in a deal valued at up to £4.4m.

Interestingly, Slot began his coaching journey as a youth coach at PEC Zwolle in 2013, spending a year in the role before transitioning to SC Cambuur as an assistant manager. At that time, Van den Berg would have been part of the club’s youth setup, having joined in 2012 at the age of 12.

Whether Slot recognised Van den Berg’s potential during his time at PEC Zwolle as a young player remains uncertain. Nevertheless, they share connections and a mutual history, which could prove advantageous for the defender if he aims to establish himself at Liverpool. With Slot’s current position as Feyenoord’s manager, he is well-positioned to gather information and references on the defender.

He’s had only four senior appearances for the Reds so far, spending the last three and a half seasons on loan, first at Preston North End, then at Mainz 05 last summer after a year at Schalke 04.

Limited to just nine appearances with the latter due to a serious ankle injury, he couldn’t prevent their relegation. However, this season with Mainz has been more successful.

With 32 appearances and two goals, he’s helping keep Mainz above the Bundesliga relegation zone. Last month, he was even ranked alongside some top central defenders in Europe’s top five leagues by Comparisonator.

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According to Comparisonator’s AI index, he was only surpassed by a few players, including William Saliba, Nico Schotterbeck, Kim Min-Jae, and Van Dijk this season.

He’s aware that first-team opportunities at Anfield are uncertain. In January, he mentioned considering another move abroad, and in February, he expressed willingness to leave if game-time wasn’t offered by the Reds.

“I have my sights set more on abroad,” he said when asked about previous interest from Ajax. “Certainly England or Germany. If I now go looking outside, I might also want to go to Italy or Spain.

“I have been active abroad from an early age and, never say never, but I am focusing on abroad this summer.”

“If I go back to Liverpool, they might want me to stay. If I see that I won’t get much game time, then I might choose to leave. It’s really important to me that I play,” Van den Berg told Voetbal Nieuws.

“In previous years, I didn’t feel like I would be starting next to Virgil. I don’t know yet what my chances will be like next summer. I think I’m doing well. I can handle playing at Liverpool. I can compete. But being a starter is different. Virgil and (Ibrahima) Konateare not easy to beat. I know it will be hard.”

This season, Jarell Quansah has demonstrated that breaking into Liverpool’s senior centre-back ranks is achievable. With Joel Matip’s contract expiring, the Reds are likely searching for a new defender. Considering Konate and Joe Gomez’s injury histories and the necessity for a long-term replacement for the aging Van Dijk, acquiring at least one centre-back appears imperative for Liverpool’s next manager.

However, there’s speculation that Van den Berg could be a viable option, especially given his impressive performance in Germany. If Slot succeeds Klopp, he might turn to his young compatriot for the upcoming season.

Should Van den Berg join Liverpool, he will undoubtedly study all members of his new squad. His familiarity with compatriots and players from previous encounters, particularly his shared history with some at PEC Zwolle, could sway his decision regarding his future at Anfield.

In other Liverpool news, Scouts Sent: Liverpool Now Monitoring “Outstanding” Star Who’s Outscored Nunez; Slot’s a Fan

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