Trent Alexander-Arnold: I Feel Very Lucky … I am Living my Dream

Trent Alexander-Arnold: I Feel Very Lucky … I am Living my Dream

Tuesday, 11 September, 2018 - 08:15
Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold. (Getty Images)
London – Paul Wilson
Trent Alexander-Arnold pauses to consider his answer to a question. A long pause, positively Pinteresque. The Liverpool and England right-back has been asked to name his most memorable moment of 2018 and at first seems stumped for a reply – it has been one of the more eventful years of his young life, after all – though it turns out he is simply searching for the right response rather than coming out with something glib.

“I think I would have to say the smiles on my family’s faces when I played for England in Russia,” he says, smiling himself at the memory. “Not many people can say their family has seen them play at a World Cup.”

Not many 19-year-olds who have just established themselves in the Liverpool first team, taking in a Champions League final along the way, would come up with such an inclusive image, though families are key to the seamless progression of this most modern of football careers. First his own, who gave him all the encouragement he needed but insisted he continued with his education as back-up, right up to the point where Alexander‑Arnold sat his B-Tech exams, which he passed.

Then there is Liverpool, who have known him since the age of six with coaches such as Neil Critchley and Alex Inglethorpe overseeing his seemingly effortless rise through the club’s youth ranks and every level of representative football. Was it really effortless?

“I feel I have been very lucky,” Alexander-Arnold says modestly. “When you are growing up you have dreams of being a footballer, perhaps even playing for the club you support, and I am living that dream. Every young boy probably has the same dream but it is only one or two percent who see it come true, and that was something my mum and dad always warned me about. They were really supportive, but also made me aware it might not work and so I needed to stick with my education. Everybody needs one, no matter what you end up doing.”

The parallel education in football took the form of a certain amount of toughening up. Alexander‑Arnold clearly had the pace and the talent, that much was evident from the start, though work was needed on his professionalism to adapt to Premier League demands. “I used to show my emotions too much,” he admits. “I had to get rid of that because the opposition would notice and start to target me. If I did something wrong I would take it out on myself, but it is important in football to concentrate for 90 minutes. You can’t keep letting your head go down, even for a few seconds. So Neil and Alex used to target me in training, be really hard on me, even fall out with me, just so I could learn to be more composed in the long run.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now without their help, I’m much more level headed. Emotion is a good thing, but top level football can be tough and you have to be in control. The speed of the game is hard to get used to at first, how fast your brain has to work to find that yard of space that can make a difference, because you find yourself up against players like Marcus Rashford and Wilfried Zaha who are both skillful and quick.

“If you look at Steven Gerrard in his early days there were times when he lost his head and picked up red and yellow cards. The more composure you show on the pitch the better your chances.”

Alexander-Arnold was targeted again when Liverpool played Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals last season, with Pep Guardiola possibly under the impression that a callow teenager might prove a weak link when subjected to repeated raiding down his wing. The opposite proved to be the case, with Leroy Sané barely getting a look-in, and few could deny that it was on merit when Alexander-Arnold became the youngest Liverpool player to start a Champions League final.

If Kiev saw the innocence of youth come up short against the embodiment of streetwise experience in Sergio Ramos, the Liverpool player does not bear any grudges. “Everyone has their ways of winning and he has shown over the last 10 years that he’s a winner,” Alexander-Arnold says.

“So has his team. To win the Champions League three times in a row takes some doing. Ramos has probably been the best center-back in the world for some time. Even if he was the enemy in May you still have to respect him as a player.”

Alexander-Arnold kept his eye on leading defenders when growing up, citing Fabio Cannavaro and Philipp Lahm as favorites, but makes no secret of the fact that his true heroes were closer to home. “For me it was always Liverpool: Jamie Carragher and the whole back line,” he explains. “I didn’t want to be playing for the likes of Bayern Munich, I wanted to be a Liverpool player.”

He can still remember his pride at having his picture taken with Carragher as a nine-year-old signing for the academy. Earlier this year he attended the same Anfield ceremony as a senior player to offer a new intake the same encouragement. “It’s hard to believe kids now look up to me the way I looked up to Carragher and Gerrard, but I suppose it might be true,” he says. “Hopefully I’m a decent role model, inspiring young people to work hard.”

Having played just once at the World Cup, when Kieran Trippier was rested for the group game against Belgium, Alexander-Arnold is hoping to get another run against Switzerland on Tuesday, particularly as the match is taking place at Leicester. “I’m a big fan of England on the road,” he says. “I made my debut at Leeds and I could feel the love and support from the crowd. It’s a bit more natural than playing every game at Wembley.”

After that the Champions League resumes, with the small matter of Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain at Anfield. This is the big time, and Alexander-Arnold knows it, though he has no plans to leave home just yet. “It can wait,” he says. Unlike the vacuuming. “That’s my family chore. I’m not the best, but I prefer it to doing the dishes.”

The Guardian Sport

Editor Picks

Multimedia