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What Liverpool fans should expect from Arne Slot – according to the man who knows him best

Arne Slot and Marino Pusic hug and cheer together
Arne Slot and Marino Pusic celebrate after Feyenoord win the Eredivisie in 2023 - Getty Images/Dennis Bresser

Perhaps aside from Arne Slot himself, Marino Pusic is the person best placed in world football to explain who the new Liverpool manager really is.

Pusic is the current Shakhtar Donetsk manager and was Slot’s assistant for five years in the Netherlands. The pair remain close friends.

They first joined forces in 2019 at AZ Alkmaar, where they reached the Europa League last 32 and were second behind Ajax on goal difference before Covid-19 shut the league down. Their budget at AZ that year was reportedly just €25.5 million (£21.8 million) compared with Ajax’s €110 million (£94 million).

When Slot moved to Feyenoord, having been sacked by AZ in December 2020 for entering negotiations with the Rotterdam-based club, Pusic moved with him. The duo saw further success there, reaching the Europa Conference League final, where they were beaten by Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma, in their first season as well as finishing third in the Eredivisie. The season after, Feyenoord won the league.

This season the two finally split, with Pusic making the decision to take the helm at Shakhtar despite the ongoing war in Ukraine. When it is put to Pusic he is the person in football who knows Slot best, he wholeheartedly agrees.

“Yes, that’s for sure!” the 52-year-old Bosnian says, speaking on the phone from Ukraine. “We worked five years together and were very successful – that was an amazing time… We’re not only colleagues, but also good friends.”

‘Arne has passion but he is calmer’

Pusic’s message about his former boss to Liverpool supporters is clear: do not expect to see Slot making Jurgen Klopp-style charges down the Anfield touchline to celebrate late winners with his players anytime soon. But, despite that, his character, style of football and his love for the game and its fans make him the perfect Klopp replacement.

“You will not see him running to the stands and jumping and that kind of thing,” says Pusic. “He’s switched on, very much focused on the details. He has a lot of deep thoughts about the game, about the development of the game and is an amazing coach – he showed that already in Holland, but not only in Holland, also in the games we played in the Europa League and the Champions League and also in the Conference League.”

“It doesn’t mean if you’re not running in front of the stands that you’re not passionate enough; it’s not a good comparison… Nobody’s the same. Every person, every coach is unique in his own way.”

Pusic adds: “Arne is calmer, he has of course a lot of passion for the game and he always has nice interactions with the people… He has a lot of feeling for good atmospheres in stadiums and appreciates the fans a lot. He finds it very important to cherish the club and the team.”

Arne Slot and Marino Pusic talk during a Feyenoord match
Pusic says Slot likes his teams to build 'properly' from back but also to play with lot of intensity and pressing - Getty Images/Olaf Kraak

Of course, it is not just passion and love for the fans that Liverpool supporters will want to see from the successor to the man who brought them their first top-flight title since 1990, as well as their sixth Champions League. What of Slot the coach, the tactician?

“I think, following football all over the world, that Liverpool did a great job by signing him. I think it fits perfectly to Liverpool,” Pusic explains. “General philosophies are always changing or adapting to circumstances. But in general, his philosophy is a dominant way of playing. What does that mean exactly? It means the proper build-up from the back, finding the right spaces, getting good players in good positions to exploit their talents and qualities, with a lot of intensity, pressing.

“Of course, Klopp also played with a lot of energy, a lot of aggression… good football. So, in that way I think the people on Anfield Road will for sure see good football.”

Slot inherits a far better starting squad to the one Klopp took on in the 2015-16 season. The German’s defence that year regularly featured Alberto Moreno, Nathaniel Clyne and Mamadou Sakho, while Simon Mignolet was first-choice goalkeeper. For comparison, Slot will likely walk into a team with defensive talents like Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker.

The man from the Dutch village of Bergentheim, which is close to the German border, has never coached such high-calibre players in his career, which could pose a new challenge to Slot.

“What you can expect is of course professionalism, 100 per cent,” says Pusic. “He’s a great person. I don’t believe a good coach can be a bad person. He takes care of his environment, of his players. He’s a dedicated coach, working very hard 24/7.

“Once he’s on the pitch, [he expects] maximal concentration. But [there is] also a lot of pleasure in there because the way he trains and the exercises [drills] require a lot of pleasure for the players to learn that way. I would say they will enjoy the football.

“Everybody has to be fit 100 per cent to fulfil the task in that kind of [intense] football. Actually, what Liverpool did with Klopp [is similar], a lot of intensity, that [needs] perfect fitness, but of course a lot of thinking about the game, taking good decisions, making fast decisions during the game.”

This will be music to the ears of Liverpool fans and chief executive of football Michael Edwards, who will not want to see a style overhaul from the high-octane, entertaining football Klopp has had his side play.

Pusic does caveat all of this, though, with a recognition that all new head coaches can face initial teething problems in their first season at a new club, let alone one with the history and expectations of Liverpool.

“Every coach needs a little time to adapt to a new competition, a new environment, but he’s a very adaptable person,” Pusic says.

But Pusic, who was briefly linked with replacing Slot at Feyenoord, is convinced it will work out for Slot. “I am sure he will continue the great job that Jurgen Klopp and his staff have done in Liverpool.”

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