Trent Alexander-Arnold is more than a player: The Liverpool title winner with no limits
After Liverpool were crowned Premier League champions, Pete Sharland pays homage to their remarkable young right-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold, a player whose ambitions on and off the pitch are truly remarkable.
The message from Trent Alexander-Arnold on his social media channels was clear for all to see. The Liverpool full-back posted pictures of special Black Lives Matter boots that he would be wearing during the Merseyside Derby, alongside a heartfelt message. Alexander-Arnold was just the latest footballer to throw his support behind the protests that have spread across the world since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In the caption Alexander-Arnold wrote: “I also have hope, hope that the world is awake in this moment. Finally willing to learn. So while we have this opportunity, where people are listening – let’s speak, educate, campaign and let’s promote the message that better education brings change. This is the moment of change. This is the moment to say enough is enough. This is the moment to make sure it stops now. Racism is a fire that is now burnt out.”
It is both impressive and a shame to read Alexander-Arnold's words. There is such clarity in one so young, yet it is a real cause of regret that so much of this cause is falling on the shoulders of the new generation. The older generation, in sport and across the world, should take note of the way their passivity has been exposed by those younger than them.
Alexander-Arnold: 'I hope this is the moment we see real change'
It is no less than you would expect though. Like England team-mates Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, Alexander-Arnold has shown himself to be vocal role model in today’s world, unafraid to call out the inequalities and prejudices that still plague our society. Indeed, in an interview with Rio Ferdinand recently, he laid out his awesome ambition: "It's not just about being a role model on the pitch... at the end of my career I want to look back that I influenced a generation, someone who made a change in the way people think. If I get through my career and I haven't done that then I'd see that as a failure on my part."
And all this while being part of one of the best sides in Premier League history, the team that has just installed Liverpool as champions of England for the first time in 30 years.
They won’t go down as the second undefeated team in Premier League history but they are clearly one of the four or five best teams in the modern era and Alexander-Arnold is a critical part of that. He and Andy Robertson are probably the best full-back pairing in world football, with their relentless motors and attacking drive critical to how Jurgen Klopp operates. And his sublime free-kick against Crystal Palace on Wednesday night, a match which took Liverpool to the brink of title glory, only underlined his incredible range of talents.
Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp manager / head coach of Liverpool celebrate at full time during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool FC at St. James Park on May 4, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom
Image credit: Getty Images
Klopp and the Liverpool scouting department deserve huge credit for the way they have carefully grown their revolutionary full-backs: Robertson was picked up on the cheap from relegated Hull City, whilst Alexander-Arnold was given the opportunity in defence as a teenager, two rarities at top clubs.
Their faith has been rewarded as Alexander-Arnold has developed into one of the best right-backs going. His defensive work, whilst criticised heavily when he came into the side, has improved immeasurably. He is getting caught out of position on fewer occasions and he isn’t diving in and getting beaten as much. Playing alongside the cool ahead of Virgil van Dijk in his defence certainly is going to help his composure.
But it’s in the opposition half where Alexander-Arnold is always going to shine. His delivery is pinpoint and has provided 12 assists for his team-mates in the Premier League this season. Across Europe’s top five leagues only seven players have more, all of them are attackers.
Alexander-Arnold will be 22 in October, by which stage he will be champion of England and Europe. When was the last time an English player achieved that as a standout fixture of the team? Wayne Rooney was 23 by the time he reached the same standard, the Class of 92 were 24. A 20-year-old Wes Brown made four appearances in Europe in 1999 but he can hardly be called a key player. You have to go back to the Aston Villa team that won the league and European Cup in the early 1980s, helped in part by Gary Williams and Gary Shaw, both in their early 20s.
However Alexander-Arnold has the ability to go one better.
A new role for England?
Next year he will be part of the England squad that will compete at the delayed Euro 2020, in whatever form that ends up taking. Most bookmakers have England as the favourites alongside world champions France and perennial dark horses Belgium.
Trent Alexander-Arnold contro la Svizzera
Image credit: Getty Images
With no international tournament success since 1966, Alexander-Arnold has the opportunity, alongside his young team-mates, to cement their place in English football history. Of course most of those players don’t have league titles, let alone a European trophy to go along with international success. Alexander-Arnold, his club captain Jordan Henderson and possibly Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be in esteemed company indeed.
And although it is still a year away you can’t help but speculate over Alexander-Arnold’s possible future at international level. Captaincy will be an option but this England squad is blessed with plenty of leaders. Perhaps he can make his mark in a different way.
Former Liverpool great Jamie Carragher suggested during the season that he thinks Alexander-Arnold could eventually end up playing in midfield for Liverpool, even going as far as to suggest that he could play a Kevin De Bruyne type role.
“He’s probably one of the best young players in the world if you think about what he has done.” Carragher told Norwegian TV before a Champions League match in the autumn.
“If you talk about (Kylian) Mbappe and he’s won the World Cup, but as a defender and playing at this level and how important he is to the team, he is possibly the most creative player in the team from right full-back. He has a lot of responsibility at a young age and he’s not going to be a superstar, he is a superstar. His strengths are that he can handle the ball and he is the most creative player in the team, just look at his assists.
“People talk about the future and could he come into midfield and be a Kevin De Bruyne type player and he has more quality now than Liverpool’s midfield players and you think about the crosses that De Bruyne puts in from the right midfield position and maybe that’s a position where Trent could play. But at the moment you wouldn’t think about moving position because he is playing so well.”
Alexander-Arnold actually played centrally during his time with the academy but decided to move to right-back to accelerate his rise to the first-team.
“I wanted to get into the first team as soon as possible, and we decided that was the most straightforward route.” Alexander-Arnold told BBC Sport earlier this year. "I probably get more of the ball now than I did when I was in midfield. It's just about trying to influence the game as much as possible from out there.”
Alexander-Arnold has also highlighted the time former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard spent on the right before moving inside. Plus there is a perfect example in front of his eyes in team-mate Fabinho, who moved from right-back to central midfield whilst at Monaco. Alexander-Arnold will know what he can offer by playing more centrally, but he knows as well as anyone there is no rush.
For Liverpool right now it doesn’t seem a position of need, what with Henderson, Fabinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Naby Keita at Klopp’s disposal. But Gareth Southgate doesn’t have that available to him. He has Henderson of course, but other options in the central roles are limited to Declan Rice, Harry Winks and Fabian Delph. Mason Mount, James Maddison and Oxlade-Chamberlain have been in recent squads but all tend to be more advanced.
What Southgate does have is a plethora of right-backs. He can call upon Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and even Joe Gomez if he wanted to move Alexander-Arnold into midfield. With the slower pace at international football it might be the perfect stepping stone for Alexander-Arnold, a great opportunity to influence games more before getting thrown into the middle as conductor of Klopp’s high-intensity orchestra. His delivery is such that it can be a weapon wherever he is deployed.
He will of course remain at full-back now. He resents the idea that he is making the position “sexy” but he is someone young players want to grow up to be. He has shown what the full-back can do, in much the way the legendary Brazilians Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Dani Alves did before him. Can he reach their ceiling? That’s a big ask, but he’s certainly on the right path…