‘Needed very good scouting’

‘Needed very good scouting’

NOS Football

Arnesen had to be creative: ‘Then you need good scouting’

He has not been on the Feyenoord payroll for some time, but guest of honor Frank Arnesen will rightfully be allowed to share in the revelry when the Rotterdammers beat Go Ahead Eagles at their own Kuip this afternoon and secure the national title. After all, the revival of the Stadionclub has begun under the Dane.

Arnesen was appointed as Feyenoord’s new technical director in January 2020. He did not have much money at his disposal. “We had to be creative. And that’s heartbreaking. Making sure that you can find good players before the others. That you can buy them reasonably cheap. And for that you need scouting that is very good,” he says two and a half years after the fact.

The former soccer player of Ajax (three national titles) and PSV (three national titles and the European Cup 1), among others, set to work on that. And not without success. But he struck his biggest blow, it is now safe to say, with the recruitment of Arne Slot. A suggestion by the player’s agent Mino Raiola, who died last year, who came up with the then AZ coach.

“I always want to see if you can see the hand of the coach in a team,” Arnesen divulges his method. “With Mourinho you can see that very well. His squad is dead irritating. And with Pep Guardiola, Johan Cruijff before and Louis van Gaal, you also know immediately: oh, that’s his team.”

“I started following AZ then, of course. They wanted to be dominant, play pressing. That takes a lot of energy. So they have to be very strong physically. And tactically they have to know what they are doing.”

Convincing story

Those were enough leads to pulse Slot for a proverbial cup of coffee. “Only I don’t drink coffee,” laughed Arnesen, who went somewhere quiet to get to know his target better. “I have about 20 questions in my head that I have used with a coach over the past 15 years.”

He lists, “How do you train, what system of play do you want, what languages do you speak, how do you deal with players and how with players who are not in the starting lineup, how do you see your dealings with the press, what is your style of management?”

Arnesen knows why Slot is a good trainer: ‘He is always critical’

Slot proved to have a convincing story and so the knot was tied: he would succeed Dick Advocaat in the summer of 2021. Still, in a way it was a gamble, because AZ cannot be compared in terms of impact to a club like Feyenoord, which constantly has many eyes on it.

Arnesen cannot deny that. “He had spent a year and a half at AZ and had done extremely well there. He came across to me as very clear. He could explain everything well. But of course it’s always a risk. You never know when someone is coming. But he amazed everyone.”

Mocking soccer law

And not just once, by reaching the final of the new Conference League in his first season with Feyenoord, but just a second time and moreover in the superlative: quarter-finals of the Europa League and especially the imminent national title.

And that while Feyenoord lost quite a few base players and started the new season with ten or fifteen fresh players. Slot blatantly mocked the age-old soccer law that building a team takes time.

David Hancko, one of the current season’s acquisitions

Arnesen puts all the credit on the coach and his staff. But there is more. “Look, you can never turn a bad player into a top player. So you do need good soccer players. And then I come back to scouting. Make sure the scouts know what we are looking for, what exactly Arne wants. They have to get into the coach’s head: what do we need at that position? He’s leaving, what type do we want there now? We will then start looking for those.”

“But there is always one risk factor: you can never see inside a player’s head. You never know how he reacts when he gets into a different environment. That’s often unpredictable.”

And then another aspect comes around the corner: giving newcomers a helping hand. As Slot has done with young Mexican Santiago Giménez. “That, of course, is also a ‘must’. You want to like a player. So what are you going to do when he comes in? Then he has to be coached. On the field, off the field.”

Always critical

So far, just about everything Slot touches turns to gold. It is therefore difficult to indicate where the 44-year-old practice master could still improve. “With me he has only known success,” Arnesen grins. “But of course it is possible that at some point he will be in a situation where he is going to lose. How will he deal with that? I don’t know, because I haven’t seen that. And maybe that won’t happen either.”

Arne Slot in a characteristic pose at the game with Excelsior

And if there is something to improve, Slot himself is probably the first to notice. “We always text each other before and after the game. All year,” Arnesen says. “Not so long ago I sent: ‘Arne, you have a lot of qualities and one of them is that nine times out of ten you come out of the locker room after halftime better than the opposing team.’ I think that’s so great.”

“He replied, ‘But we were lucky there.’ He’s always critical. And that makes him a good trainer. He’s happy with the good things, of course, but he has to have something to improve every time.”

Plenty of challenges

Meanwhile, the big question is whether Slot will continue to do so at Feyenoord. Although his contract in Rotterdam runs for another two years, there seem to be foreign hijackers on the coast. On the other hand, at Feyenoord there are also plenty of challenges ahead for the coach, Arnesen stressed.

Santiago Giménez after another hit

“In every game that Feyenoord will play now, the team is seen as the champion and the opponent will go at it 110 percent. Plus: you play Champions League and you want to become champion one more time. So there is still a lot to win. But it is also difficult and that can be a nice challenge. I hope for Feyenoord’s sake that he stays.”

And his own future, how does the 66-year-old Dane envision it? The man, who was out of the running for a while in mid-2022 due to a bacterial infection after which his contract at Feyenoord was not renewed, does not seem to be ready for a place behind the geraniums for the time being. “I always say: in our life in soccer we never retire. But it could well be that I will never work again.”

Kayleigh Williams