Liverpool’s outstanding right-back discusses winning it all at 21, Klopp, ‘The Last Dance’ and his aim to become a one-club legend
It took me 5,975 days, 16 years and 737 games before I gave up on the dream of winning the only trophy which eluded me at Liverpool.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has won the lot aged 21, a Premier League and Champions League winner after just 127 appearances for his boyhood team.
“Well Trent, think of all us who came through Liverpool’s Academy and never got our hands on that league title,” I told him in our Zoom interview this week.
“Maybe it was a lot easier for me,” he replied.
“Because of the team and manager, and where the club is right now.
“It was not the same for a lot of you lads when you first came through the Academy. I came into a side that had so much quality throughout, able to go so close last season, prove it was world-class and keep pushing on. Now the club is an amazing position, back where we belong at the heights of European and English football.”
I could not be more thrilled for Trent. And yes, why not admit it, I cannot help but wish it had been the same for me.
Throughout the 2000s, Steven Gerrard and I despaired seeing Manchester United’s ‘Class of ’92’ collect title upon title.
What I love hearing from Alexander-Arnold is he imagines himself becoming Liverpool’s Ryan Giggs, a one-club man emerging from the academy, intent on looking back in 15 years’ time and recognising the last few years as the starting point rather than pinnacle.
Closer to home, I wonder whether Trent has thought about becoming a modern day Ian Callaghan, who played an extraordinary 857 times for Liverpool between 1959-1978, winning five titles and two European Cups.
I asked Alexander-Arnold if he wants to be that constant presence – a future captain I would describe as the embodiment of Liverpool on the pitch – ensuring whoever walks into the dressing-room follows the example set by Jurgen Klopp’s class of 2020.
“Definitely,” he said. “We want to go down as one of the best Liverpool teams in history. We know we are on a decent way down the track and there is a long way to go, but there is no reason why we cannot do that.
“These situations where you have a team which has the players for a five-, maybe six-year stint challenging for and pushing for the league and Champions League do not come around often. That does not seem realistic – maybe some teams will say it isn’t and you can’t expect to go for both competitions every year – but for us, that is the aim. We want to be in the Champions League final every year and make sure we are in the title race every April and May.
“Right now, the club is in a position we have not been for a long time. We have shown we can win any and every trophy. We have won the two biggest in the space of two years, proving to ourselves and the rest of the world we are capable. Our job is to keep that motivation, and with the gaffer being the way he is that will not be a problem. No-one is relaxed thinking, ‘We’ve won it once’. We do not want to be a team that wins it and then goes another 20 or 30 years without winning it again.”
But what about the more challenging days?
“I would be silly to think the way I have started my Liverpool career and the way it is now will carry on for the next 15 years,” he agreed.
“I am not naive to think it is always going to be like this. It is hard to see that because of the way things are in the Premier League, with teams evolving so much. Every year there are five or six teams capable of winning the title.
“But I would say yes, however it goes I will always feel that responsibility to do everything I can to keep the club at the highest, world-class level.
“I know this team will evolve, players will go and others come in, and staff might also change. They do at every football club. You have to change with the times and stay with it, staying ahead of the game off the pitch as well as on it as we have.”
Listening to Alexander-Arnold’s appetite for more is thrilling for Liverpool supporters. He already sounds and, more importantly, plays like a leader. That has been a personal ambition since his debut in 2016.
“Becoming Liverpool captain eventually motives me every day,” he said.
“It is something I want to achieve. Obviously that will not be my decision, but if I did not manage that before the end of my career I would be disappointed. I have always thought about that.
“Whether it happens or not, I feel it is my job at Liverpool to lead by example. I always try to do that now – to be an example for the younger lads coming through. I feel as though I am part of a team where everyone is influential and helping each other. That is what captains do. They lead and drag the side through tough times, and motivate the players alongside them.”
Clearly a lot of this comes from the manager, but the level of self-motivation means Klopp is preaching to a congregation he converted long ago.
“To be honest, immediately after we won the title he never said anything,” said Alexander-Arnold.
“He said he did not say anything on the night because he was so caught up in it and felt so emotional. Emotions were running high. Then on Sunday we had a team meeting and he told us that while we had achieved something so special and amazing, it was now a case of, ‘Well done, celebrate it for a bit, but now we go again and push for more’.
“I was sitting there and found myself smiling. All I could think was, ‘Yes, this is the exact same mentality I have’. All the players will tell you the same.”
It has been well widely reported how during the lockdown the manager and players were enthralled by the renewed focus on the relentlessly successful Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. Listening to Alexander-Arnold, it feels like that acclaimed Netflix documentary was produced at an appropriate time in Anfield history.
“I think everyone watched ‘The Last Dance’,” he said.
“We all spoke about it. Everyone was impressed because Michael Jordan is one the best, possibly the greatest, athlete ever. Whether you watch the NBA and basketball or not, you know who he is.
“It was so exciting to see his thought process going into every season and the mentality he had. The one thing that came across to me was his drive and the way he pushed his teammates.
“That might have been a bit too far for some people, but some people in a dressing-room like that and thrive off it – to be critiqued every day and pushed. I found it really insightful.
“If you look at Ronaldo and Messi, it is the same. You never see them relaxing. Ronaldo has won five Champions Leagues. If you asked him if he was happy with that, he would say, ‘A little bit, but I want another one’.
The more you win, the more you want another so you can go down as a legend. It would be harder playing the game and not striving for that.
“As an athlete, it would be weird not to have that competitive nature. You need goals and ambitions. For the last two seasons, that ambition was to win the biggest trophy so far as Liverpool are concerned, which is the Premier League. Coming close last year was tough. Next season will be the same. It is a natural reaction for us as players to keep pushing to achieve what others have not done.”
Aside from my Premier League titles and European Cups, Trent admits he has another modest ambition.
“I think about how I can go about becoming the best right-back the Premier League has ever seen,” he said.
That is not too difficult, I told him. “You only have to get past Gary Neville!”
“When everyone picks their best ever Premier League team, I want my name to be in their team and not his!”
Not bad for a player who, until Klopp decided he was the perfect right-back, played his youth career in midfield.
“At right-back I am finding I have more touches of the ball than anyone, even more than I would in midfield. For now, it’s not broke, so no need to fix it.” Liverpool have the chance to make an instant statement as champions at the Etihad tonight. For Trent, the party is on hold.
“The gaffer says it will be the greatest game to be ever played behind closed doors,” he said.
“It is the rivalry of the last two years, definitely. Next season, we just do not know. There is quality at Chelsea and you see the players they are bringing in. I would expect City and Liverpool to be up there again. When we played them in November, we already knew that was a big game in terms of the title race, no matter how early it was in the season. Any three points against City is huge. John Stones’ goal-line clearance was the only difference between us last season, the difference between whether or not we won the league.
“It is the rivalry we want because I think we push each other to make sure we are both in and amongst it.”
By finally ending the club’s academy quest to find a Liverpool-born player to make the leap from schoolboy to title winner, Alexander-Arnold is the long-awaited new member of an exclusive club.
Gary Ablett did it in 1990, Sammy Lee in the ’80s, Gerry Byrne, Chris Lawler, Phil Thompson, Tommy Smith, Jimmy Case, Ronnie Moran, Jimmy Melia, Phil Boersma, David Fairclough and Callaghan during the Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley eras.
“When you mention those names and put me in the same bracket as a local lad winning the league, it is hard to think of yourself in the same conversation,” he said.
“I had messages from my old coaches at The Academy and my family have been more emotional than me. Honestly, it really has not sunk in yet. I know it is massive. I know it is a big deal and I will think about how proud I should be of myself.
“We have had two or three days celebrating and now the boys are straight back on it. It almost feels like the title is behind us and we are asking can we break 100 points? Can we hit the 105 or 107 target? Can we win all our remaining games? Can we get another six or seven clean sheets?
“And then on to next season and defend it and think about the Champions League again. We want more. You never feel satisfied.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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