Smiles bet­ter as Alexan­der-Arnold feels proud to carry the ban­ner for change

South­gate’s young prospect has his feet firmly planted on the ground de­spite suc­cess, re­ports Jim White

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

If you want a mea­sure of the change Gareth South­gate de­liv­ered to the Eng­land team this sum­mer, it is there in the out­look of Trent Alexan­derArnold. Last week, the teenaged Liver­pool full-back was sit­ting in the gym at St Ge­orge’s Park be­ing quizzed about his jet-heeled rise to promi­nence.

He was asked the stand­out mo­ment in a first sea­son in which he made his de­but for his home­town club, was given a reg­u­lar start­ing berth by Jur­gen Klopp and played in the

Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal. He con­sid­ered the ques­tion be­fore say­ing: “I think it was see­ing my fam­ily smile at the World Cup.”

There was a time, not that long ago, when turn­ing out for Eng­land was reck­oned by many of those called up as less an op­por­tu­nity to smile than frown. It was a bur­den, some­thing they wanted to be over as quickly as pos­si­ble so that they could re­turn to the com­fort of the club game.

Alexan­der-Arnold is typ­i­cal of those who have ben­e­fited from the South­gate way, who feel mo­ti­vated, en­thused, above all priv­i­leged to play for their coun­try. His at­ti­tude is all the more noteworthy given that in Rus­sia, be­hind Kieran Trip­pier in the se­lec­tion rank­ings, the young right-back spent his time gath­er­ing splin­ters on the bench, mak­ing only one ap­pear­ance,

in the dead-rub­ber group game against Bel­gium. And still he loved it.

“I en­joyed ev­ery minute,” he said of the World Cup. “If you had told me a year ago that I would be where I am now, I would have took it and ran. I am grate­ful for ev­ery op­por­tu­nity, whether that’s play­ing or not play­ing. Just be­ing around the Eng­land team and be­ing part of the spe­cial jour­ney that meant so much to the coun­try.”

A life­long Liver­pool fan, he re­calls know­ing he had been smit­ten when, as a six-year-old, he watched Steven Ger­rard and his team-mates pa­rade the Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy through the city in 2005.

De­spite Sir Alex Fer­gu­son’s ef­forts to sign him for Manch­ester United, he was en­rolled in the An­field academy soon af­ter, where his ath­leti­cism, pace and in­tel­li­gence quickly marked him

out as a proper prospect. Ed­u­cated at pri­vate school (where he ex­celled as a rugby player and picked up a full quota of GCSEs) his progress has re­de­fined the term smooth. He has made the tran­si­tion to first-team reg­u­lar and is in line to pick up an­other in­ter­na­tional cap. And all this be­fore he has reached the age of 20. Here’s how young he is: he still lives at home, obliged by his mother to par­tic­i­pate in a do­mes­tic chores rota (his spe­cial­ity, vac­uum clean­ing).

“The odds are stacked against you be­com­ing a footballer so my fam­ily made sure I al­ways had a backup plan,” he said. “So far, I have been lucky. I have been given the op­por­tu­nity to per­form on the big­gest stages. You are brought up to re­alise that there will al­ways be tough times in foot­ball and that noth­ing is ever straight­for­ward. The sea­son wasn’t al­ways smooth,” he said.

In par­tic­u­lar he re­called two Premier League matches against Manch­ester United and Crys­tal Palace. “That was where Mar­cus [Rash­ford] and [Wil­fried] Zaha gave me a tough time. Mar­cus is prob­a­bly the fastest in the league. But it’s not

just out-and-out pace. It’s get­ting you off bal­ance, that’s when they get you. It’s not just a foot race. They get you off bal­ance, then your body shape’s not right and they’re gone.”

Klopp trusted the young­ster against Manch­ester City in the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter-fi­nals and was re­warded with per­for­mances of such au­thor­ity and ma­tu­rity that in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion fol­lowed. Now South­gate is reap­ing the ben­e­fits of Klopp’s gam­ble, likely to give the full-back a start in Tues­day’s friendly against Switzer­land at the King Power Sta­dium. And for Alexan­der-Arnold “friendly” has a fur­ther mean­ing.

“The im­por­tant fac­tor for us is that we’re on the road and will be at Le­ices­ter. It’s a bit more nat­u­ral than ev­ery game be­ing at Wem­b­ley. Since Gareth’s come in, he’s wanted to con­nect the fans again with the play­ers. Make ev­ery­one fall in love with the game again. And that’s part of it. My de­but was at Leeds. I re­ally felt the love and sup­port from be­ing on the road.”

A Liver­pool player feel­ing the love at Leeds: things re­ally have changed.

‘I am grate­ful for be­ing a part of Eng­land’s spe­cial jour­ney. It meant so much to the coun­try’

Rapid rise: Trent Alexan­der-Arnold has be­come an in­te­gral part of Jur­gen Klopp’s plans

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