Perhaps it’s best to just start over: Trent Alexander-Arnold meets England, England meets Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Sometimes it’s better to draw a line under the initial clumsy attempts to get into a relationship and start over.
That’s kind of how it feels with Alexander-Arnold and the national team. Remember, this is a player who was widely recognized as the best right-back in the world in the season in which Liverpool won the Champions League, 2019.
Liverpool and England right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is struggling form and fitness
The cheeky, impulsive corner kick from Divock Origi, crowning the spectacular comeback against Barcelona in the semi-finals, was a player at the height of his confidence and fully mastered his unique skills.
So why is it that some regard him as England’s fourth-choice right-back?
It is of course partly the fact that England have an embarrassment of wealth in the position and two of them, Kyle Walker, 31, playing for the Premier League champions, and Kieran Trippier, 30, voted Spain’s best right-back, exist for longer. And that Reece James, a year younger at 21, plays for the current European champions.
England manager Gareth Southgate says it is his fault that he failed to get the best out of Alexander-Arnold as a coach. But whatever the reason, a player who is considered by some to be the best fullback in the world has made just 11 starts for England, more than three years since his debut.
“It’s hard to say really, isn’t it?” says the man himself, trying to explain the riddle. “Because you’re playing a different system, with different players… it’s not an excuse, but it’s hard to find your way, to find form. Everyone and everyone will have a hard time with that.
Manchester City defender Kyle Walker is now recognized as England’s first right-back
“To be honest, since I’ve been in the squad I haven’t really been the best version of myself, I haven’t delivered the performances that I regularly have for my club. I expect more for myself when I play for England.
“I try that every time I get the chance and hopefully in the next week I’ll get the opportunity to perform and take it. I played a really good match in the Nations League play-off for third place against Switzerland a few years ago [in 2019].
“I thought I was playing really well then, but after that I just couldn’t get off the ground. Other than that it was mediocre by my standards and that’s what I need to improve on. That’s what I’ve been working on.
‘Of course with fewer games, fewer opportunities come. There is huge competition for a place. It’s probably one of the most overcrowded positions, with great players, so it will always be hard to find yourself in a position where you play regularly. I am a regular at my club who plays most of the matches. I think it’s just not finding the form and finding the level I need and the level I demand on a daily basis. I just couldn’t get to that pub.’
After he was dropped from the England squad last March, there was so much consternation and speculation that Southgate singled him out for special treatment in May and called him to tell him he would definitely be in his final Euro 2020 squad.
Gareth Southgate called Alexander-Arnold to assure him he would be selected for the Euros
“Because there was a lot of speculation – people said I wouldn’t be on the squad, people said I was – and a lot of people expressing their opinions, the manager wanted to make things clear with me and let me know I was going. So I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on in the media at the time. I had the reassurance of the manager, then I had a clear mind going into the last few games of the season.”
After making the cut, he then suffered a thigh injury in the penultimate game for the Championships, which forced him to shut himself out of the summer tournament.
‘That was a difficult one for me. I had worked hard and it was a huge honor to be named in the squad. I was looking forward to it and I was in Middlesbrough where the guys were preparing to get everything right for the tournament.
“Of course the injury hits and that’s a shame for me, but it’s football, these things happen. I felt a bit sorry for myself – but after a few days you are over it and I started working hard to prepare for the start of the season.
Alexander-Arnold suffered an injury during a warm-up match and was banned from Euro 2020
“As for the boys, part of me was disappointed that I wasn’t there. I hated that I was missing something. But at the same time you watch your friends achieve extraordinary things, things that were not achieved before the country. So I watched proudly and saw the joy on the faces of people watching. At the World Cup [in 2018] I was in that bubble, so you don’t really know what it’s like. You hear all the stories, but when you’re outside that bubble and see it firsthand, it’s incredible. It was touching to see the whole country behind him.’
Given all that’s behind him now and assuming he starts today against Andorra – not the toughest World Cup qualifier – what else has he got to keep his place in front of more formidable opposition, like Poland on Wednesday?
‘We [Southgate and I] have had conversations. We talk about things I do well, things I can improve upon. We’ve touched on the defensive side of my game a little bit more, to be a little more reliable and dependable in that respect and that’s something I need to work on. I know what I need to work on and I can translate that into training and show the coaching staff that I’ve been on it and working on it.”
Alexander-Arnold says he is only focused on getting into the England team at the moment
Jamie Carragher has often explained how a club from Liverpool has always meant more to him than the country. It’s not that easy for Alexander-Arnold. He remains wholeheartedly at Liverpool as Carragher ever was. But he also has ambitions to be part of this extraordinarily talented England squad.
“You get a lot more games for your club and most of the time you spend at your club, so naturally you have that connection and those strong feelings,” he said. “But now that I’m here, I have the same feelings. You know, right now I’m not thinking about what’s happening at the club, I’m thinking about what I can do to get into this team.”
Indeed, why wouldn’t any young professional want to be a part of the evolving England story. Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling strike up a conversation. “It’s much better to play with them than against them,” says Alexander-Arnold with a grin.
Alexander-Arnold enjoys playing with players like Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish
He has spoken of an ambition to lead England. ‘Yeah, that hasn’t changed at all. That’s something I think I can achieve if I work hard enough. I’ve never really put any limits on myself, I’ve always strived to be the best version of myself every chance I get. I want to win trophies (with England). I want to become a regular customer. I want to lead the team out there and things like that. And I think those things are achievable for me.
‘Since the arrival of the manager, it has been refreshing for the country. I think there is a lot less pressure on all of us than the previous generations and we have really taken advantage of that by going to the semi-finals at the World Cup and the final of the European Championship. We’ve clearly talked about those close calls and missing out and that can go both ways. Either you can talk about it and think it’s not for us and feel sorry for yourself, or you can let those experiences mold you and shape you into winners and you get that winning mentality again and take it one step further and that’s what we hope to do .’
Indeed, just as he did for his club when he missed out on the Champions League in 2018 and the Premier League in 2019. Now to do the same for England.