Trent Alexander-Arnold: Do I feel fulfilled? Nowhere near”

Trent Alexander-Arnold has spent the last year cementing his place as the most exciting English footballer of his generation. On the day he’s named Premier League Young Player of the Season, we meet the Liverpool FC star with the world at his feet.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is missing. It’s less than 48 hours since Liverpool FC lifted the league trophy at an empty, but spectacular, Anfield, and we’ve managed to drag their star player to an abandoned cotton mill on the outskirts of Bolton, east Lancashire, for his first FACE photo shoot. Now we’ve lost him. 

Has anyone seen Trent?” asks a frantic producer, phone in hand, headphone dangling from one ear. 

Suddenly movement is felt behind a polystyrene board erected as a makeshift dressing room in the corner. 

How are you doing, Trent?” I shout, hopefully. 

Good, how are you?” he replies, almost instantly. 

Panic over. He was just having a minute. 

And who can blame him? Not only did Alexander-Arnold score the night his team lifted their first league trophy in 30 years (53 over Chelsea, a stunning, unsavable free kick into the top right corner), he’s been responsible for many of the club’s goals this season. 

He broke his own record for most assists by a defender in a single Premier League season (13). He scored four, including a miraculous free kick against Crystal Palace that earned comparisons to David Beckham from former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher. And he’s generally spent the last year cementing his place, not only as the Most Exciting English Player of His Generation, but possibly as the best right back on the planet: an athlete that has redefined the role from something dull and unsexy into the position every schoolyard wannabe will wanna play in the 2020s. What’s more, he’s done it all at only 21 years old. 

Do you feel fulfilled? 

Nowhere near. Nowhere near.”

Jumper Jaqcuemus

Today, though, he’s just Trent, the local lad who grew up playing jumpers for goalposts with his two brothers in the West Derby area of Liverpool. 

He still lives with his family, albeit in the affluent surrounds of Hale in Cheshire. And he possesses a sort of quiet centredness, answering questions slowly and deliberately, his eyes often widening with sincerity as he speaks. 

Are you going to get a lot of stick for doing a photoshoot for a trendy magazine? 

I think the lads will definitely question that jumper that I was wearing,” he says, sat seriously on a chair, as seriously as one can sit on a chair, in front of me. But if it looks good then they can’t really judge me.” 

It’s all part of his charm, see. The ordinary guy with the extraordinary talent. The much-trumpeted scouser in the team” that you could take home to your mam, leave playing FIFA with your brother, and rest safe in the knowledge he’d only beat him once or twice, and at least in extra time. 

  • When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost” When you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks. That desire to win at any cost”

He experienced lockdown the same as us: growing his hair (“I’m gonna keep it going”), doing Zoom quizzes (“I’m good at quizzes, to be fair”), and playing a lot of funny board games, a lot of Monopoly, Cluedo, stuff like that”.

He watched Tiger King, but only a bit (“I couldn’t watch it all, it’s not really my bag”). And you’d be forgiven for thinking you were speaking to any regular, non-preternaturally gifted 21-year-old, until conversation turns to hit Netflix documentary, The Last Dance, and Micheal Jordan’s furious, hyper-competitive pursuit of victory.

Did you recognise yourself in him at all?

Yeah,” Alexander-Arnold says, slowly. I think in the way he was describing how he thought and trying to explain his thought process to non-athletes. To non-athletes it must have seemed strange to be so intense all the time. But to be at that level, that’s how you have to be.”

Throughout the series, we see Jordan fighting with his teammates, bantering with the press, and being so consumed by a desire to win, that he’ll occasionally be found pitching pennies with security guards in the stadium office. He has an often questionable drive to succeed – one that stands at odds with the polite, young man sitting before me.

I’d say I’m chill, quite laid back,” Alexander-Arnold admits. But when you step onto the pitch there’s something that clicks and it’s just that competitive nature that’s in every athlete really. That desire to win at any cost. You’ll find yourself after training, driving home and you won’t even realise the things you’ve done or said.”

It’s just a competitive edge all the time,” he continues. And if you can get into the habit of that, and I think a lot of amazing things come through habits, then that’s just how you feel every day. You just want to win.”

Jumper and trousers Jacquemus, T-shirt Martine Rose

That habit to win comes, in part you expect, from the club’s infinitely charismatic German manager, Jürgen Klopp. Since his appointment in 2015, he’s managed to harness the unique emotion that comes with being Liverpool Football Club – the romance! The passion! The heritage! – to create a forward-facing, counter-pressing machine capable of staggering feats of stamina. 

In just over a year, they’ve bagged the FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and UEFA Champions League (the latter after reaching the final the year before). Now they’ve claimed the honour that evaded them for so long: a league title, won with a record-breaking seven games still to play. 

Only they very nearly didn’t. As the Covid-19 pandemic began to tighten its grip on the world in early March, the Premier League made an unprecedented decision to suspend its remaining games. At this point Liverpool were 25 points clear at top, their coronation all but a formality. But the wait, which would eventually drag on till mid-June, was agony for its players.

No one knew what was going on, whether we’d be able to play the rest of the season out or whether, when things came to an end, we’d be able to win the league or not,” Alexander-Arnold says. It was tough because we knew we were so close. At that point we were two wins away. It’s like someone giving you the thing that you want the most in life and it’s right in front of you – but you can’t touch it.

You know when you find your Christmas presents but you have to pretend you haven’t and wait until Christmas Day to receive them?” he says, warming to the theme. It was literally like that. But you’ve found them in August and Christmas is in December.”

Football has dominated Alexander-Arnold’s life. He joined Liverpool’s academy in 2004 at the age of six, after being spotted at a half-term football camp, and describes how he’d play all day, every day, inside the house, outside in the park, on the astros, at the academy”. 

He did well at school, but mostly because if he didn’t he’d be punished by missing training (“I used to be so obsessed that missing one session would be the end of the world”). And he passed all his GCSEs, despite the fact that he had to do some of them in a Bulgarian hotel room while on England duty at the Under-16 Euros. 

What would you have done if you weren’t a footballer? 

Ermm… I’m not sure, in fairness.”

If you could do anything. 

I think…”

If football didn’t exist.

I never really had a…”

He has no idea. Never needed one. Because where you and I see a foot and a ball, Alexander-Arnold has the ability to see speed and velocity: a thousand different variables he’s able to weigh up in the split second he has to transform a game. 

You need to be able to calculate where people are going to be before they’re even there,” he explains. So with a cross, I need to try and work out, by the time I hit the ball and with the speed that I’m putting on it, where the defender’s going to be and where the attacker’s going to be.”

Go on.

So by the time I put my head down to look at the ball, I’ve worked out where the defender was, where he’s going to be, where the goalkeeper is, how many players are in the box, where the space is, how hard I need to hit the ball and at what angle. Then you’ve got to think about your own technique…”

  • As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it” As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it”

It’s a far cry from a few years ago, when England footballers were generally, and unfairly, regarded as sharing half a brain cell between them (“Too dim to win?” goaded the BBC in 1999).

In fact, recent months have seen English players emerge as some of the country’s most important spokespeople: from Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson contacting fellow Premier League captains to set up a coronavirus fund for NHS staff, to Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford forcing the government into an embarrassing U‑turn over free school meals for children during the summer holidays.

What changed?

I feel as though social media has helped our generation,” Alexander-Arnold says. Older generations didn’t have the privilege to be able to express themselves and say what they feel without their words being twisted. As players we have more control over what we put out there. It’ll be interesting to see how far we can take it and how far we can actually go with it.”

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in June, Alexander-Arnold used his platform to issue a statement condemning systemic racism, writing: The system is broken, it’s stacked against sections of our society and we all have a responsibility to fix it.” It was followed by an interview with former player Rio Ferdinand, in which Alexander-Arnold spoke about his responsibility to educate young people: I know I’ve got a big profile, I’m a role model for the younger generation,” he told Ferdinand. I want to put out messages that I believe in. I want kids to look at me and think he’s got the right values. I want to be like that.’ I want to look back at the end of my career and feel like I’ve made a change.” It felt like the most from the heart he’d ever spoken.

Yeah, it was,” he says, today. When you’re young you get media trained. You know what to say and what not to say and how far you can step over the line. But when there’s so much pain and grief and heartbreak out there, just to be able to get it off my chest and say what I was thinking and feeling and what many others were feeling – it was good to be able to say that in front of a lot of people.”

Jacket and trousers Fred Perry x Nicholas Daley, shoes Dr. Martens

There’s a clip on Youtube in which Alexander-Arnold is interviewed by former Tony Blair spokesperson and spin doctor, Alastair Campbell. As Campbell attempts to draw comment on subjects such as Atlético Madrid’s Kieran Trippier, a potential rival for his position in the England squad, or whether foreign players can get” Liverpool in the same way he, a native-born son of the city does, Alexander-Arnold is adept at answering, well, like a politician. He responds evenly and diplomatically. He refuses to be drawn in. 

Is politics something you’re interested in? 

I think it’s important to be informed and to know what’s going on,” he answers, both very evenly and very diplomatically. I need to know who to vote for, even though I know who I’m voting for at the end of the day.”

Who are you voting for? 

Labour,” he replies, in a heartbeat. But for me it’s important to be informed about what’s going on, people’s arguments and stuff. If someone’s going to run the country we should know that person, we should understand who that person is and what they believe in – not just listen to who makes the biggest headline and who can promise the best things to a certain demographic. It’s important to be informed and know what’s going on in the country, for sure.”

  • Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend” Every player has an ego. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend”

For now, though, his attention is very much on football. If Liverpool reached the peak of something magical last season, it will be gripping to see how the team maintains that intensity once the league restarts next month.

It’s difficult to say that next season we’re going to do the same because it’s been historic in nearly every way,” Alexander-Arnold admits. I think as a team we know we have to evolve, and that means staying at the same level but adapting to different things. We’re going to have a target on our back now. Teams will have that extra motivation to beat us, so it’s about changing, adapting but making sure we can still win games.”

I ask if there was a moment for him when football stopped being just a kickabout in the park. When it became about the same desire to win that drove Micheal Jordan to prominence – and will likely do the same for Trent Alexander-Arnold over the next decade, too.

I think even as a kid, I used to have a competitive thought process of wanting to win the league – the Sunday league,” he says. I was playing against my mates and on a Monday morning it would be the best feeling in the world being able to laugh about it and say we won.

Every player has an ego,” Alexander-Arnold continues. Every person that plays football will say that they want to be a legend and really the only way you can achieve legendary status is to win a lot of silverware and be remembered for that. To be a legend you have to win trophies.”

Then he pauses and smiles.

So start early and win them all.” 

Director of photography: Olan Collardy

First assistant: Cameron Williamson

Stylist: Ola Ebiti

Stylist assistant: Leonor Carvalho

Groomer: Marina Belfon-Rose

Film lab: Labyrinth Photographic


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