When Jamie met Trent ‘We want to be like Ron­aldo and Messi – one ti­tle is not enough’

Trent Alexan­der-Arnold has won the league and Cham­pi­ons League at 21, but his am­bi­tion for Liver­pool knows no bounds

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Jamie Car­ragher

It took me 737 games over the course of 16 years 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 tell him in our Zoom in­ter­view.

“Maybe it was a lot eas­ier for me,” he replies.

Why?

“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 in 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 at see­ing Manch­ester United’s “Class of ’92” col­lect ti­tle upon ti­tle.

What I love hear­ing from Alexan­der-Arnold is that 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 past few years as the start­ing point rather than the 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 and 1978, win­ning five ti­tles and two Euro­pean Cups. I ask 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 says. “We want to go down as one of the best Liver­pool teams in his­tory. We know we are 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. 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 agrees.

“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 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 mo­ti­vates me ev­ery day,” he says. “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.”

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,” says 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 widely re­ported how, dur­ing

‘Be­com­ing Liver­pool cap­tain even­tu­ally mo­ti­vates me ev­ery day. If I did not man­age that I would be dis­ap­pointed’

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 se­ries was pro­duced at an ap­pro­pri­ate time in An­field his­tory. “I think ev­ery­one watched The Last Dance,” he says.

“We all spoke about it. Ev­ery­one was im­pressed be­cause Michael Jor­dan is one of the best, pos­si­bly the great­est ath­lete ever. Whether you watch the NBA and bas­ket­ball or not, you know who he is. The one thing that came across to me was his drive and the way he pushed his team-mates.

“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. 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.”

Aside from more 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 says.

That is not too dif­fi­cult, I tell him. “You only have to get past Gary Neville!”

Alexan­der-Arnold says: “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 ever to be played be­hind closed doors,” he says.

“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’s goal-line clear­ance was the only dif­fer­ence be­tween us last sea­son, the dif­fer­ence be­tween whether or not we won the league.”

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 lon­gawaited new mem­ber of an ex­clu­sive club.

Gary Ablett did it in 1990, Sammy Lee in the 1980s, Gerry Byrne, Chris Lawler, Phil Thomp­son, Tommy Smith, Jimmy Case, 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 says.

“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. 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.”

Fam­ily pride: Trent Alexan­der-Arnold at the PFA awards with dad Michael, broth­ers Tyler and Mar­cel, and mum Diane

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