Arne Slot’s long-shot romance hints at gamble worth taking for Liverpool

<span>Arne Slot at his final match in charge of Feyenoord.</span><span>Photograph: PA Wire/PA</span>
Arne Slot at his final match in charge of Feyenoord.Photograph: PA Wire/PA

Welcome, then, to the dicing and slicing of Arne Slot. As ever with the appointment of a new manager at one of the Premier League’s heritage-level clubs, it is necessary to make a prediction; to judge before anything has actually happened whether this will prove to be a successful hire.

The real answer to which is, of course: nobody knows. Football is a field of endless variables. Even the most dominant manager has a diminishing range of influence. Every appointment is a gamble, every managerial hire a playing of the slots.

Related: Liverpool confirm Arne Slot replacing Klopp as head coach on three-year deal

With this in mind there are only two questions actually worth asking. First, is there evidence right now that this gamble is worth taking? And second, what would the success or failure of this gamble actually look like? Is universe‑boss‑level Jürgen Klopp the only measure of success? Does failure have to look the way José Mourinho or Antonio Conte fail, the burn-it-all-to-the-ground school of failure? Because if not, hiring Slot starts to make quite a lot of sense.

First, it is necessary to make the conventional case against. Which is, frankly, a little bleak on its own terms. Slot has no experience as a player or manager with a club at this level. Aged 45, he has managed only 242 professional games, all of them in the Netherlands. If we accept Frank Lampard’s basic Frank‑power, and that Graham Potter had at least been in the league for a while, Slot is arguably the least qualified manager appointed by a big English club this century.

Hiring a tyro is still a legitimate gambit. But it usually coincides with some sense of unstoppable ascent, sharp teeth, a record of at least gatecrashing the biggest stages. Slot has one losing Europa Conference League final to his name.

He gushes publicly over Pep Guardiola. (Do we need another Pep fan? Is it possible to beat the OG when what you’re really interested in is building your own tribute act?) Slot has the look of a relentlessly cheerful Gloucestershire cheesemonger. He is a nice, sane, relatively gentle presence. Even his name is an anagram of the word “lost”. This is the standard screed against.

There is of course a case for, too. People who have worked with Slot genuinely believe in him. His football is high pressure, attack-minded and similar to what has gone before, attackers who defend, full-backs that creep into midfield and so on.

He may not have managed at elite level, but he has taken over a club in a state of entropy, with a hugely experienced departing manager (Dick Advocaat), star players on their way out and created almost instantly a young and vital-looking team, a narrative arc that will not have escaped Liverpool’s corporate hires team.

He works hard, is super-smart, loves the game, doesn’t have a big ego, looks after his players and is generally adored in return. He isn’t visibly exhausted. This is all good stuff. It means nothing yet, doesn’t suggest Slot will be able to challenge Guardiola and Mikel Arteta. But there is evidence here that the gamble has substance to it, which is as good as any hire is going to get.

At which point it is worth zooming out and taking the hedge funder-adjacent view of planning for the future. Once Liverpool had failed in their pursuit of Xabi Alonso, a fairly narrow set of options presented itself. Chuck out the rosy glow of hope, take off the fan filters, and what are the odds that the next guy is ever going to be exactly the right guy? Tiny? Almost nonexistent?

History suggests most managerial appointments fail. History suggests almost all appointments like this one fail. Think of the generational managers, from Alf Ramsey to Alex Ferguson. The guy who follows the guy is the toughest job of all. Liverpool are one exception, but the boot-room era was a genuine in-house lineage. Otherwise, we always have an Unai Emery, a David Moyes. Everyone needs a frog to kiss. Chuck in the fact that hard trophy-winning success is ever more specialised and remote. Strip it all away. What you’re really choosing, all things considered, is the way in which you’re going to fail.

Take this on board and there are some very appealing elements to a Slot. For a start this feels like an act of disruption, and we know how much US investors love that.

What are the standard tropes here? Hire a Thomas Tuchel or similar. Die just a little of boredom while narrow margins are fought on hugely expensive terms. Why not take a free hit with a competent, low-cost outsider? Success with Slot, while less likely, may still be more desirable and sustainable. If both are outside bets, it’s not unreasonable to take a longer shot at the one you might actually prefer.

There is an economically rational element to this. Failure with Slot would also be soft failure. He can fail while still creating something of value. At Feyenoord the job description was to play attractive attacking football while increasing the market values of his players. Slot won the league while turning a net profit on signings. Young players improved on his watch. What do Liverpool’s owners actually want? A long shot at trophies? Or a happy looking brand that retains its value, plus good husbandry of the stuff they already have?

This may even be the best route to success in any case. Klopp’s chief legacy is a squad with six starting players aged 23 or younger plus a crop of quality teenagers. This is what Slot would actively seek to create for himself. “I don’t believe that much in experience,” he has said. “I believe more in game intelligence. Young players can have much more than an older player.”

Given that Thiago Alcântara and Joël Matip have departed and Mo Salah will surely follow, that Virgil van Dijk may at some point be on his bike, that even Trent Alexander-Arnold has yet to sign a new deal, the idea that any manager could instantly return the team to peak-Klopp levels seems remote. Slot may not be a chosen one, a special one, or even a particularly remarkable choice as outsiders go. But there is logic here, the promise that good work can be done; and even a degree of long‑shot romance in a very considered gamble.