Thursday 19 September 2019

Alexander-Arnold taking rapid Reds rise in his stride

Liverpool’s new local hero tells Sam Wallace about his upbringing in a grounded community and how a famous European night won him over

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold. Photo: John Powell/Getty Images
Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold. Photo: John Powell/Getty Images

Sam Wallace

Trent Alexander-Arnold's memories of his first Anfield game will always be crystal-clear he says, not least because it was the night that he was baptised as a Liverpool fan and into the great European tradition of which he has already become a part.

Liverpool's 19-year-old breakthrough star and fresh World Cup call-up is sitting on the terrace of the team's Marbella hotel, on a break from warm-weather training, recalling his six-year-old self taking his seat at Anfield with his mother Diane and brothers Tyler and Marcell.

It was the 2005 Champions League quarter-final first leg against Juventus and he can remember Sami Hyypia's opening goal, Luis Garcia's second and also something that everyone learns about the English football's most successful European team.

"It's the atmosphere, the special feeling around Anfield, one of those special European nights," he says. He watched the final round the TV with family. "The first half was disappointing but, you know, miracles happen don't they?"

At Liverpool it can indeed feel like anything is possible under the floodlights when the biggest prize is up for grabs, and so it will seem on Saturday night in Kiev when they go for European Cup number six against Real Madrid, the powerhouse chasing number 13.

But what about other miracles too, like a club who search the world for talent, but discover their brightest young thing a 10-minute walk away from the Melwood training ground?

Alexander-Arnold was born and raised in Liverpool's West Derby district, and on that night watching them beat Juventus it all came together.


He had always loved football, and grew up knowing the grey concrete walls of Melwood protected a great institution from prying eyes. He would see the expensive cars of the players arriving for training, but it was at that 2005 Champions League quarter-final that he knew he wanted to be a Liverpool fan.

By then he was training at the academy, his name picked out of a hat at school to visit the club, and 30 minutes into his first drill the coach, John Stephens, had taken Diane aside for a chat.

"I was still at a young age and I did have a few Everton mates. I didn't have a set club, I was very neutral. I used to love watching Match of the Day, and the goals. I used to love seeing people scoring. I wasn't focused on one club until that night against Juventus."

We talk about what it will be like on Saturday night when the pitch clears of all but the players, the kitman gathers up the tracksuits and Alexander-Arnold looks over from his place on the right to wherever Cristiano Ronaldo is standing.

"I have trained for 13 years for these moments, these types of games. You prepare for it without even knowing. I will keep working hard in the next few days to get better, to improve, to get to a new level.

"That is the main thing, to keep striving, to focus on myself and make sure I get a good game. Then there is more chance of me not giving him (Ronaldo) too many chances to do what he does best."

We meet the morning after Gareth Southgate's squad was announced and Alexander-Arnold smiles at the "surreal" experience of the past 24 hours.

But this is 13 years in the making and although it has come so quickly, it was always what he wanted. As a boy playing Saturday football for his local team New Broadway, he would turn out for the U-7s at 9.30am and the U-8s at 11am. On Sunday he would play mornings for club side Country Park and afternoons for Liverpool. It just never stopped. A scholarship at Liverpool; England from U-16s level; a first-team Liverpool debut in October 2016; an U-21 cap; a regular first team place, 32 appearances this season and now this.

"I have always thought, 'Take a step at a time'," he says. "Even though it is hard to say this, I have never felt overwhelmed in that situation. Every situation has been a goal and a dream, so I have thought about it many times and nothing has really been a surprise."

Jurgen Klopp walks to a nearby table. He shouts over in mock seriousness: "Did he say he owes everything to his manager? This must be the headline!"

Alexander-Arnold smiles nervously. He is still just a teenager.

He loves chess. He learned to play it when it rained at school and there was no lunchtime football. Now he and his good friend Ben Woodburn battle each other at every opportunity. "Pre-season in Dublin there was a chessboard," he says, "since then we have downloaded it on to our computers because when the plane takes off all the pieces move. Nightmare."

His first passion is for his family, and his love and admiration for his mother is expressed without inhibition. She gets nervous watching him, but has been persuaded to go to Kiev.

"Growing up she sacrificed a lot of things to see us happy, to see us smiling and our dreams come true. A lot of the time she couldn't do things because she had to be up early in the morning to take us to football.

"I knew she was good with medicine and she maybe wanted to be a nurse, but she could never do that. Hopefully now that things are going really well she is enjoying her rewards as well."

Alexander-Arnold is also a poster boy for the Football Association's development programme and he was part of the U-17s side at the 2015 World Cup in Chile. It was there he tweeted about visiting the damage wrought by the Illapel earthquake, an experience afforded him by football that has opened his eyes to the world.

"That was unbelievable, right by our hotel just walking along the coastline you got train tracks and rubble everywhere. It was crazy the devastation that happened, yet it seemed like no one was paying attention to it. The locals carried on with their life and they worked hard for their living.

"It put things into perspective how lucky and fortunate we are. That's important as a young player to get that experience."

On the last day of the season he took nine-year-old Louis Henry, a cerebral palsy sufferer, with him on the Anfield lap of appreciation. Louis's mother Natalie has written movingly about the limitations on her son's life - he is currently in a wheelchair - and the positive effect of Alexander-Arnold's friendship.

"There aren't many times when Louis feels lucky," she said of that afternoon at Anfield, "but I bet he feels lucky today".

Alexander-Arnold had already been visiting Louis at the Alder Hey children's hospital, having organised it independently with Diane through the local charity An Hour For Others.


"Just to put a bit of joy in his life and see him smile was better than any award I might have. I have grown up in the community, I know a lot of things can be done. That's the right thing, it's not the publicity. "

There is no question Alexander-Arnold is a determined character, as all these prodigies have to be to make it so young in such an unforgiving profession - and he is at peace with the challenge that lies ahead in Kiev.

"It's a game we have to win a huge trophy and there are 11 players in our way. The manager will get the tactics spot on like he has done and then hopefully we will be at it."

In the meantime there will be a few more games of chess with Woodburn to pass the hours. "Me and Ben we know each other's moves," he says. "We try to set each other up in little traps."

Of course the best players can see the board 20 moves ahead, and it is how he sees his playing career too, and it has prepared him for this remarkable moment in his young life that has come so soon. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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