‘What Slot is doing at Feyenoord deserves credit’

‘What Slot is doing at Feyenoord deserves credit’
Arne Lock

NOS Football

Guus Hiddink, former top coach and current president of trade association Coaches Betaald Voetbal, thought last Sunday’s Klassieker (2-3 win Feyenoord) was a great advertisement for the Dutch trainers’ guild. “They both left little to nothing,” he said by phone just after the game.

On the morning of Ajax-Feyenoord, we met the 76-year-old Hiddink already at his stately home on the Amstel River in Amsterdam. At an audience with the nestor, who spoke prophetic words. Hiddink expected an intense match, and given the perception and manner of play, he gave Feyenoord just a little more chance of winning than Ajax.

“It still came true what I said this morning huh, haha.” And then seriously: “No, without being arrogant. It was a game full of duels, with a little too many fouls at times, but nevertheless it was good. Feyenoord then managed to turn it around in the second half, as so often this season. I really like to see that.”

Hiddink prior to Klassieker: ‘Hand of Slot at Feyenoord very clear’

One of the key moments early in the first half was the not-given second yellow card for a foul by Quilindschy Hartman on Mohammed Kudus and the subsequent intervention by Arne Slot. The coach did not hesitate for a moment, allowed Marcos López to warm up immediately after the foul and substituted Hartman.

No abc’t

Hiddink: “Many trainers gamble that such a player won’t get a second yellow card then. But I think you always have to intervene when you have a good substitute in. Because a little smart team is also going to play on that to force a second yellow card. That substitution was good. Not an abc’t, because you have to dare.”

Hiddink saw a better Ajax in the first half, but suspected that Slot had instructed his team in the second half to play with more composure on the ball. “In my view, teams that dare to play short get more space to then choose the attack in gear. Feyenoord’s passing from behind was also a lot better. And Ajax found it difficult to defend against that.”

Hiddink also liked the coach’s choices at the other end. John Heitinga saw the game slip out of his hands and brought on striker Francisco Conceição for defender Owen Wijndal. As a result, Edson Álvarez came in at center back, Calvin Bassey moved to left back and Kudus dropped to midfield.

“I certainly understood that choice and it almost paid off. Indeed, Conceição had a big part in that big chance by Kudus in the closing stages. If Kudus shoots such a ball in then we would all now be talking about Heitinga’s crucial intervention. But now that goalie (Timon Wellenreuther ed.) caught the ball in a great way. That’s the opportune thing about soccer.”

Hiddink watched the Klassieker from the trainer’s perspective and saw that it was good. On the one hand an up-and-coming talent (Heitinga) and on the other hand a trainer who is ready for a step to top international soccer (Slot).

Slot ready for next step?

“To start with Slot: what he is doing at Feyenoord deserves all credit. He could well be the next to break through internationally after Erik ten Hag (at Manchester United, ed.). Crown prince? No, you should never use that word. So many coaches have been called crown princes in the past. He is just a very good coach. Period.”

Arne Slot and John Heitinga

And about Heitinga: “He is now taking his first steps on the highest stage. He is a very serious boy. I have been following him for a while and he is on the right track with the job. I’m not about it, but I would welcome it if he can take the helm for a longer period.”

What does Hiddink think of Heitinga’s much-discussed swagger leading up to the Klassieker? “That’s just a good joke for a moment. The media shouldn’t be too keen on that, mind you. Let those people make a joke now and then too, please. Don’t take it too hard.”

No worries

It should be clear: the chairman of Coaches Professional Football is not worried about the future of Dutch coaches. After the World Cup in Qatar, Hiddink was still bombarded with emails from all over the world: ‘What had happened to Dutch soccer? Entering a match so defensively was nothing for Orange.’ He is therefore happy with this new generation of trainers.

“Don’t forget Pascal Jansen at AZ either. He is doing very well in Europe this season, just like Slot with Feyenoord. All good, talented trainers. The Dutch league they don’t really look at in the rest of the world, so especially success at the European level is crucial for the image for the Dutch trainers’ guild.”

Kayleigh Williams