Arne Slot smiles on the shoulders of the players and gets a lap of honor through the stadium. That is the dream scenario for the Feyenoord fan tonight after the Conference League final against AS Roma. But this scene happened once, nine years ago. Sometimes you forget from trainers what kind of football players they once were.
In 1995 Arend Martijn Slot gets a permanent place in the selection of FC Zwolle as a seventeen-year-old. Before that, ‘Arne’ made his debut as a fifteen-year-old against the amateur club where he once started, fourth division team VV Bergentheim. As a stunt, the teenager was given the captain’s armband.
Slot’s first period in Zwolle, under Jan Everse, is bumpy. Many injuries and a lot of sitting on the bench, according to Everse Slot was still a lot short physically.
“He had trouble with that, because he thought he was good. He didn’t doubt his own qualities,” remembers Everse. “Arne was young and a bit stubborn, so I said: invest in yourself, otherwise you will always be a doubt.” That message got through.
In seven years, Slot grows into an easily scoring number 10, who has to rely more on his technique than his running ability. In Slot’s highlights, subtle markers, velvet assumptions and measured insertions then appear. It often looks oh so easy.
“A lot of people had the idea that Arne was lazy and phlegmatic, that he didn’t do much for it,” says Everse. “But that wasn’t right. You just shouldn’t expect any sliding from Arne.”
FC Zwolle is promoted to the Eredivisie in 2002 on the basis of the refined right leg. Slot himself switched to NAC Breda that summer, where he finished in fourth place under Henk ten Cate, behind the traditional top-3.
Slot enters Europe, but his player career does not reach higher than one European duel. NAC sinks, even fights against relegation in 2006 and Slot switches to Sparta. His first acquaintance with Rotterdam.
Was a sub-topper never interested in the scoring midfielder? Doesn’t look like it. Everse does have an explanation. “His motor skills have held back a lot.” No, Slot wasn’t fast, but had a good pass. No running miracle, but game insight. “With his qualities, he has made the most of it.”
View images of Arne Slot as a football player here:
At 31 – his right knee is squeaking and creaking – it is time to return home. Wind down at Zwolle in the first division. That’s where the trainer’s dream takes shape, teammate Bram van Polen noticed at the time.
“Arne was constantly busy with boys in the team during training, then clearly a trainer in the making.” The veteran was able to sharpen things up during training, putting intense pressure from the first round. “He was very keen to achieve success again with Zwolle.”
And that will come: the championship of the first division in 2012 and promotion to the eredivisie. Slot plays at the highest level for one more year and then puts away his kicks. Life in the dugout begins.
What may have always been there as a player, is increasingly bubbling up at the trainer Slot. “As a trainer, he is much busier than as a player, often against referees,” says Everse. “He is very compassionate.”
And the fitness of his teams. “The condition that he wants to get his boys fit, he didn’t have that before. I don’t know if he has ever seen a weight room inside.” Winks from a former teammate.
‘Arne Slot Ball’
Yet the trainer Slot never completely lets go of the player Slot. “You sometimes still see things in the game at Feyenoord. The ‘Arne Slot ball’ still exists with us at PEC,” says Van Polen.
The ‘Arne Slot ball’ is a pass behind the last line almost out of control in one go, sending a fast winger into the depths, explains the PEC Zwolle captain. Slot perfected him as a player. “Kökcu also wants to give those balls.”
The game that Slot previously taught AZ and now Feyenoord, recognizes Everse from their Zwolle time. “We also put a lot of pressure, played exactly the same as Feyenoord now. I am not surprised that he plays like that.”
The biggest difference between Slot as a player and as a trainer seems to be determination. “Arne has a vision and he goes to work with it, every day, and a real trainer, like Guardiola and Van Gaal. We should be grateful that Slot wants to play offensively and does not collapse.”
In addition to compliments on how he lets his teams play, compliments are pouring in on Slot as a person. Slot is a warm, friendly man, it sounds. “A good person”, according to Van Polen. Someone who is visibly having fun and rarely seems tense. A little joke here and there at the press conferences and in interviews.
Sometimes he is surprised with a laugh about the craziness that takes place on and around the field. About the acting of Ajax player Antony in the Classic, for example, or the time when the raging Diego Simeone pushed him after a practice match. Lock remains calm.
But the image of Slot as a sweetheart doesn’t quite hold true. He doesn’t seem afraid to make a hard decision. Whether it is for the team – Feyenoord captain Jens Toornstra lost his base place in recent months – or for himself – a sudden switch to Feyenoord from AZ.
“I wouldn’t have thought it too crazy if he had gone to Ajax after all,” says Everse. “I think Arne thinks very simply in self-interest. That is very good, because it can also end like this in the football world.” But hiding something? Slot doesn’t do that.
“What you see is who I am,” he said as a brand new AZ trainer. “You can also be calm and analytical and at the same time very clear.” Toornstra recognizes that. “He can touch and motivate you”. As a trainer, Slot shows his players exactly what he expects from them.
Van Polen also remembers it from Slot’s time as a player. “He is very clear and you should not come to him with nonsense and injustice, he is very bad at that. He doesn’t like that.”
“Arne is diplomatic,” observes Everse. “He tells what to tell the group and makes no bones about it.” Perhaps that is the most important thing that trainer Slot picked up in his time as a player: providing clarity. That’s exactly what footballers love.