“No-one wants to be a full-back as a kid. No-one wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville.”
The words of Jamie Carragher during a 2013 broadcast of Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, as he took a far from thinly-veiled dig at his colleague’s former occupation.
Seven years on and - in an ironic turn of events - the football pitches of Carragher’s hometown of Liverpool are awash with youngsters attempting to impersonate the best right-back in the world.
The name they scream as they look to curl a sumptuous free kick past their mate in goal - Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Since making his first-team debut in 2016, Alexander-Arnold has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the game - and is now widely regarded as not only one of the best full-backs in world football, but one of the best players period. Despite his career still being in its infancy, the 21-year-old already boasts a Premier League and a Champions League winner’s medal, as well as a Ballon d’Or nomination.
Now, for all the shirt number purists out there, the sight of the greatest right-back on the planet wearing the number 66 jersey is enough to make toes curl and palms sweat.
With lofty squad numbers typically allotted to recently-graduated academy members, the obvious explanation behind Alexander-Arnold’s choice of shirt number would be some sort of superstition or sentiment.
However, in an interview with the club’s official website, Liverpool’s kit management coordinator Lee Radcliffe confirmed that no such forethought had inspired the selection: "I think he's that laidback that he's obviously been given the number and thought, 'yeah, that'll do me. I'll keep that', and not realised how iconic it's become over the years.
“Someone like Trent has just been happy to be around the first team and obviously doesn't realise how good he is.”
It’s this unassuming nature and humble persona that make Alexander-Arnold one of the most likeable players in the Premier League.
In a world where footballers are obsessed by their image and what colour boots they’re going to wear, the West Derby lad offers a refreshing throwback to a time where a footballer’s primary concern was getting out onto the pitch and playing the game they love.
Since Jürgen Klopp’s arrival at Anfield in 2015, it would be nigh on impossible to pinpoint one particular aspect of his tenure which has transformed the Reds from eighth-placed also-rans to Premier League champions.
However, unquestionably one of the most influential facets of his time at the club has been the development of Alexander-Arnold.
His marauding runs and quality deliveries have become a feature of Liverpool’s play, with his 13 league assists in the 2019/20 season setting a Premier League record for a defender, breaking the record set by – you guessed it – himself, back in 2018/19.
Along with Andy Robertson, Liverpool’s full-backs have amassed a whopping 48 assists between them in the past two Premier League campaigns. However, as eye-watering as these heady figures may be, their role within the Reds system stretches far beyond that of ‘providers’.
While Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané are rightly lauded for clocking up consistently impressive numbers in front of goal, the pair are only afforded the freedom to drift inside because of the covering width offered by Alexander-Arnold and Robertson.
Without the endeavour and work rate of Liverpool’s brilliant full-backs, there would be no famous Liverpool front three, and there would just as likely be no Premier League title.
So we’ve established that Alexander-Arnold has the engine, the quality, the desire and the character to be classed as the greatest right-back in the world, but does he have the footballing brain to match? You probably already know where this is heading.
Anfield. 7 May 2019. 21:38. The hometown boy’s crowning moment.
Having trailed 3-0 from the first leg of their tie with Barcelona, Klopp’s side had somehow managed to claw their way back into the contest. With just 11 minutes of normal time remaining and the aggregate score at 3-3, Alexander-Arnold innocuously placed the ball in the corner quadrant before appearing to walk away and relinquish set-piece duties.
However, in a moment of utter genius the youngster fooled the Barça backline, feinting to pay no interest at all before sharply turning and picking out the unmarked Divock Origi who applied a sublime finish.
Not only did the right-back’s brilliance see Liverpool overcome their toughest hurdle yet on the road to Champions League glory, it signalled the emergence of a superstar. No longer was he just the 'quality right-back with impressive delivery', he was a match-winner – someone who could produce a moment of magic when the club needed it most.
To imply that Alexander-Arnold has reinvented the full-back position would be amiss. Many players before him such as Giacinto Facchetti, Phil Neal, Paolo Maldini and Cafu have adopted a similarly attacking role to the Liverpool youngster.
However, along with Robertson, the England man is making full-backs fashionable and dispelling the stereotype which has gone before them for so many years. He undoubtedly has a stellar career ahead of him and possesses all the qualities and the character needed to be considered among the world’s elite.
“No-one wants to be a Gary Neville” – yep, you’re probably right Carra, but plenty of kids want to be a Trent Alexander-Arnold.