Trent Alexander-Arnold has provided critical insight into making the grade at Liverpool after switching from midfield to right-back.
It has been a meteoric rise for the 19-year-old, who was a virtual unknown outside of Merseyside this time last year.
He has made 22 first-team appearances and scored three times this season, however, and this week he trained with England’s senior squad for the first time.
Alexander-Arnold has now looked back at his first call-up to Liverpool’s first-team, back in August 2015, when he was just 16 years of age.
The youngster had caught the eye of then-manager Brendan Rodgers, leading to his U18s boss Alex Inglethorpe to feature him at right-back in a pre-season tournament—the role Rodgers was likely to need cover in.
Speaking to Liverpoolfc.com, Alexander-Arnold spoke about facing Swindon Town on his unofficial debut, and the help provided by Inglethorpe beforehand.
“After the United (U18s) game, Alex Inglethorpe came over to me and said, ‘I’ve had a call from Brendan saying he might need you for Swindon.
“I think he needs you to play so make sure you’re ready. It’s still not 100 per cent.’
“So I played the afternoon game not knowing whether I was going or not. I played at right-back to try to become as familiar as possible, because I think it was my third or fourth game as a right-back.
“I didn’t really know the position. I remember Alex talking me through the whole game—he made sure I was ready if the chance came.
“We trained at Melwood on the Saturday morning and flew down to Swindon on the Saturday night, stayed over and played on the Sunday.
“I played around 60 minutes and I was made up. I was grateful for the chance and looking back, it was a really big opportunity for me.”
Further discussing his switch to becoming a right-back, the boyhood Liverpool supporter described how he adjusted to the role, endlessly studying the likes of Daniel Alves, Philipp Lahm and many others.
“It wasn’t just right-backs. It was defenders in general—their body movements, when to drop and push forward, all kinds of things,” he added.
“I slowly got eased into right-back. That’s when, as a collective—me, Critch and Alex—sat down and discussed future plans.
“We came to the point that right-back was probably going to be the easiest route into the first team for me.
Joe [Gomez] was still badly injured, [Jon Flanagan] Flanno was injured and it was just [Nathaniel] Clyne at the club. We looked at it and thought, ‘there is Clyney and probably just one U23s right-back in your way now’.
“You’ve got three starting central midfielders for the first team, two or three on the bench and three U23s central midfielders playing. I was playing for the U18s at the time and there were one or two on the bench there as well.
“I thought, ‘it’s probably not the best idea’.
“I was getting used to and enjoying the right-back role, it was something I wanted to do. You can’t really waste time. At 17, to hear you are one or two spots away from being in and around the first team gives you motivation.”
It feels like an inspired decision for Alexander-Arnold to focus on being a right-back, having become a key member of Jurgen Klopp‘s squad this term.
The pace and end product he gives down the flank adds another dimension to Liverpool’s attacking play, and he is improving defensively all the time.
Whether right-back remains his position throughout his career remains to be seen—many are tipping him to go back to central midfield one day—but to be trusted by Klopp at such a young age says a huge amount about his progress.