Why Rúben Amorim lost out on Liverpool job to Arne Slot

PORTO, Portugal — Rúben Amorim has had better weeks. The Sporting CP coach began it as the leading candidate to replace Jürgen Klopp as Liverpool manager, but it ended with the 39-year-old apologising for a meeting with West Ham United in London prior to dropping two points against FC Porto in the race for the Portuguese title.

Quite a bit went on in between, too, but at the end of it all it is Feyenoord’s Arne Slot who is set to be heading to Anfield to take on the challenge of succeeding Klopp. Meanwhile, the future for Amorim — who appeared at two World Cups for Portugal during his playing career — looks increasingly uncertain.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Sources have told ESPN that Amorim’s determination to remain loyal to his 3-4-3 formation was one factor in Liverpool’s decision to opt for Slot. The €15 million ($16m) release clause in Amorim’s Sporting contract, which runs until 2026, was less of a factor, but it is still a considerable financial outlay for any club when coupled with salary expectations in the region of €12m-a-year. But with Amorim reluctant to compromise his tactical philosophy, plus the cost of hiring him, any club that identifies the former Braga coach as their No. 1 target will have to factor in both crucial elements.

With a five-point lead over Benfica at the top of the Primeira Liga and just three games left to play, Amorim is almost certain to lead Sporting to a second title in three seasons, meaning his reputation as one of Europe’s rising coaching stars will be undimmed. But with Liverpool looking elsewhere, Barcelona persuading Xavi Hernández to U-turn on his decision to quit as coach and Bayern Munich closing in on Ralf Rangnick, the former Manchester United interim manager now coaching the Austria national team, the three big jobs Amorim had been linked with in recent weeks are all likely to be filled by somebody else.

West Ham might yet return for more detailed talks than last week’s flying visit if, or more likely when, they part company with David Moyes. However, former Real Madrid, Sevilla and Wolverhampton Wanderers coach Julen Lopetegui is another strong contender for the job at the London Stadium. If either Chelsea or Manchester United create their own managerial vacancy this summer due to ongoing doubts over the future of Mauricio Pochettino and Erik ten Hag respectively, Amorim could yet land the big job that his track record at Sporting is pointing toward. But, right now, the top jobs are going to others.

The big issue with Amorim is his tactical philosophy and loyalty to a three-man defensive formation, anchored by the former Liverpool defender Sebastián Coates who is generally flanked by Gonçalo Inacio on the left and Ousmane Diomande on the right. In front of the back three, Amorim deploys two strong, energetic midfielders from Hidemasa Morita, Daniel Bragança and Morten Hjulmand. Up front, the prolific Sweden forward Viktor Gyökeres, a bargain €20m signing from Coventry City last summer, has scored 26 goals in 30 league games this season, including two in 60 seconds against Porto on Sunday to salvage a point in a 2-2 draw.

However, it is the back three that is likely to make sporting directors at potential new employers nervous. Antonio Conte won a Premier League title with Chelsea in 2016-17 with three at the back and Xabi Alonso has delivered a first-ever Bundesliga title for Bayer Leverkusen this season by playing the same system. But big clubs that operate with four at the back have personnel to suit that system, and the upheaval of hiring a coach who needs players comfortable in a different one only adds to the financial outlay of taking on Amorim.

At Liverpool, it’s easy to see Virgil van Dijk thriving in the Coates role at the heart of the three, but would Joe Gomez, Ibrahima Konaté or Jarell Quansah be quite so comfortable in the system? And while Alexis Mac Allister has had an impressive first season at the club following his summer move from Brighton & Hove Albion, his style of play differs significantly from the more high-energy approach of Sporting’s midfielders. The changing of a manager is a traumatic enough for a group of players without adding an entirely new tactical philosophy that they must embrace, meaning Amorim is a complicated fit for many potential interested clubs.

His teams are exciting, though, it must be said. Against Porto, Sporting’s use of width and their tenacity led to the two late Gyökeres goals that snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat. Amorim’s style clearly works with the right personnel, but too many big clubs demand success immediately and expecting him to thrive with square pegs in round holes would be unrealistic. Louis van Gaal tried to make three at the back work at Manchester United and failed, while even Pep Guardiola has reverted to a four-man defence at Manchester City after trying out the system at times.

Overall, the cost of hiring Amorim — in terms of compensation, wages and the potential outlay on suitable players — would make him a difficult appointment for many clubs this summer. He is undoubtedly a talented, innovative coach, with a confident personality to go with it, so when he leaves Sporting, his next club will be lucky to have him. But wherever he goes, the new club will have to accept the upheaval and allow him the time and money to make it all work. The big clubs in the market for a new coach this summer lack either one or the other, or both, of those precious commodities to make Amorim the right fit.