One in a million

Every kid on the Kop dreams of emulating their Liverpool heroes and one day lifting the European Cup. For one, who grew up near the club’s Melwood training ground, that happened in Madrid

WORDS Graham Hunter | PHOTOGRAPHY Michael Regan

Interview
First comes the remarkable admission. Then, for those who want to dethrone the European champions, a slightly chilling prediction follows. It’s Liverpool’s thrilling, articulate, local hero right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold who’s speaking. No question, therefore, that the words are well chosen and unshakably sincere. So: the surprise?

Alexander-Arnold’s confession that Liverpool’s potentially traumatic loss to Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final in Kyiv didn’t hurt the then 19-year-old lifelong Liverpool supporter, or his team, anywhere close to as badly as he’d expected.

Initially, it feels like hearing a Kopite say You’ll Never Walk Alone is a dirge and could do with speeding up the beats-per-minute ratio or that he hopes Ole Gunnar Solskjær will prove to be Sir Alex Ferguson Mark II. Defeat in the European Cup final not that painful? Give him a minute, he’ll explain brilliantly.

And the daunting forecast for those seeking to prevent Jürgen Klopp’s side becoming only the second club over the last quarter of a century to reach three consecutive Champions League finals? That there’s been no sating of hunger since the 2-0 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid brought Anfield its sixth European Cup. That this Liverpool squad believes a dominant era is beginning. That, in the words of Bachman–Turner Overdrive, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Alexander-Arnold is between double training sessions when he chats about drive, talent, loss, motivation and pain. He talks like he plays –with verve, intelligence, passion, clarity. Kyiv to begin with.

“Those [Real Madrid] goals: obviously two of them were mistakes and one you’ll probably never see, or concede, again. But after the third goal went in, it felt as though they were just toying with us.

“We couldn’t get the ball; we weren’t creating chances. It was almost as if we knew we weren’t going to score another two goals. [Luka] Modrić, [Toni] Kroos and Isco were just toying with us. They were almost mocking us, the way they were keeping the ball.

“So it was weird because, after that final, it wasn’t as bad a feeling as I thought it would be. You imagine losing a Champions League final is the worst you could feel, but … it wasn’t.”

Forgive me for interrupting the drive of his explanation, but it’s worth you knowing that here, for a second, Trent Alexander-Arnold pauses to make absolutely sure this is truly what he wants to say. That a West Derby boy who grew up playing football on amateur pitches from which you could hear a loud Anfield roar not only feels that losing the ultimate club match wasn’t shattering – but that it instantly transformed into a positive.

Kyiv. Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool. Only the Reds’ third Champions League final in 33 years. Mo Salah’s early tearful injury exit, a couple of high-profile misjudgements from their keeper and … well, THAT extraordinary Gareth Bale overhead goal. All the ingredients to cause sporting and emotional devastation. Once satisfied that he’s ultra-sure of sharing this private emotion, Alexander-Arnold expands.

“It felt … I knew that we’d get back to the final again. I think we all did. We all accepted: ‘Today wasn’t our day, but as a team we’ll be back sooner rather than later. Maybe not next year, but within the next two or three seasons we’ll be back. And we’ll win it.’ We thought: ‘We’ll learn from what just happened and we’ll be back no matter what.’”

It’s purely in a football sense that he expected to feel more pain. The collateral damage really impacted. Alexander-Arnold was acutely aware of the brutal hurt and loss around him – family, fans and those team-mates who knew that they might, by the next final, have moved on.

Salah’s penalty and Divock Origi’s late clincher against Spurs in June mean that this remarkable athlete is now historic: a starter in two consecutive Champions League finals and a winner of the cup with the big ears while still only 20. Kyiv bred Red resilience. Madrid has given birth to a hunger to dominate.

“After beating Spurs, there were celebrations but with the sense that: ‘This is literally just the beginning.’ Nearly every player in every position is world class and not many, if any, have even hit the heights they can at their full potential, which is incredible. The manager talks about it all the time. We’re still a young side, we’re still learning. We need to evolve, adapt and become better. It’s exciting.”
“As a local lad, it’s about making young kids feel how Gerrard and Carragher made me feel”

“Nearly every player in every position is world class and not many, if any, have even hit the heights they can at their full potential, which is incredible. The manager talks about it all the time. We’re still a young side, we’re still learning. We need to evolve, adapt and become better. It’s exciting.”

Even though he’s already wary of all the backslapping, desperate to get on with trying to win the Premier League and defend those European laurels, Alexander-Arnold is evangelical about one particular thing he experienced at the Estadio Metropolitano. This is a guy who operates off ‘pictures in his head’.

It’s because of that ‘advance image’ in his football brain that Liverpool reached the final. His part in their magical fourth goal against Barcelona on a semi-final night of inspiration and mayhem will live forever – not just in Anfield folklore but whenever and wherever people gather to reminisce about football brilliance. More of that later. But back to what tasted sweetest once the European Cup could be presented to the Kop on tour.

The day before the final, Alexander-Arnold and his left-back brother-in-arms, Andy Robertson, took to the pitch in Madrid. Surveying the cavernous, empty coliseum, they tried to imagine where their families might be seated. Then they asked stewards for help and information.

So, by Saturday night, as winners, they headed off in search of loved ones in those ecstatic post-whistle moments. In doing so, our man wasn’t simply bursting to share his brimming joy – he was bringing to life an inspirational mental image he’d nurtured in his head for years. Take note: dreams don’t come true just because it’s ‘your celestial turn’. They come true because you pursue them relentlessly.

“The picture in my head, which had motivated me over the years, wasn’t me on the pitch with the trophy in my hands: it was about when the fans left the stadium and it was just the players and the families. That was the picture I had in my head. To know that what you’re doing is making the people around you proud, happy, knowing all that they’ve sacrificed for you over the years. Just to be able to see them smile, to see them holding the trophy, getting pictures with it, dreaming …

“They were there the year before. So, that’s what motivated me throughout the season: against Madrid, seeing them crying in the stands, seeing mine and the team’s hearts being broken, shattered, coming so close. Then, hopefully, to see them at the opposite end of the scale and be so over the moon with joy was the motivation for us throughout the rounds of the Champions League.”

Nor do dreams of the magnitude in this Liverpudlian’s psyche come true without sacrifices and, sometimes, painful experiences. Alexander-Arnold’s family threw everything behind him – to the extent that his elder brother had to forsake a fledgling amateur career to go and watch his kid sibling make progress in Liverpool’s academy. “Most of the time, he’d play on a Sunday afternoon, but that’s also when I’d have to be at Liverpool for a match, so his would be sacrificed for mine. Obviously, for an 11-year-old boy, with everyone else going into school on a Monday morning and talking about what result they had the day before or where they are in the league – he can’t join in that banter. It must’ve been incredibly hard.”

It wasn’t retribution (wink) but his big brothers, one of whom now represents Alexander-Arnold’s career negotiations and choices, helped forge his sporting resilience and the flintiness in his mentality. Leo Messi tells an identical story about his two brothers Rodrigo and Matías, perhaps one common to every competitive kid with elder siblings. But if you’re young, small and more talented than the leaders of the pack, watch out. Right, Trent?

“I always played with my brother and his mates, who were four, five years older than me, so when I was as good as them, if not better, taking the ball past them – it’s a pride thing. They’d always knock me over, kick me, trip me up, stuff like that. If someone’s so much younger than you, you think they’re taking the mickey out of you, so you do try and hurt them. From five or six years old, you realise that football’s not just a pretty, beautiful game. Tough days are what make you.”

There’s a special beauty, right enough, in a guy born within a goal kick of Melwood – where every Liverpool great in living memory has trained, where a Boot Room mentality reigned, where European history was built– ending up as one of the Kop’s most cherished luminaries.

Especially as that same kid becomes a Liverpool match mascot along the way, guided on to the pitch by Jamie Carragher and, in due course, one of the academy lads who serves as a ballboy on the day his hero, Steven Gerrard, slips to allow Chelsea a win that crushed the Reds’ title dreams under Brendan Rodgers.

As for his Champions League debut, that comes as a fan, against Juventus at Anfield in spring 2005, when Rafa Benítez’s reign, a few months later, goes on to produce perhaps the most dramatic European Cup final ever. Eventually, this kid then begins to star for the club he loves, playing in one Champions League showpiece aged 19, helping to drive Liverpool back to the following one, 12 months later, and wins. Lifts the trophy “that defines us as a club”. This story is gorgeous. Inspirational. It’s the DNA of football – literally anything can happen if you want it badly enough.

“As a local lad in this team, it’s about making young kids feel how Gerrard and Carragher made me feel; to know that they were just normal young lads who played on the streets of Liverpool and somehow, with all the hard work, they were heroes and legends for our club – not just on the pitch but off the pitch. You give out the right messages and you motivate and you’re a role model for the youngsters in the city, then you will leave a legacy.”

The road to victory required suffering. Real psychological pain. Being ‘transitioned’ from adventurous, happy-go-lucky midfielder into attentive, positionally sound, clean-sheet-obsessed right-back was a pretty brutal process. Immediately when Brendan Rodgers made it clear that he required cover at right-back, Alexander-Arnold intuited that he couldn’t allow any glimpse of the first team to simply be a one-off opportunity. He saw the big picture, early. He and two youth academy coaches, Neil Critchley and Alex Inglethorpe, got together and calculated that positional adaptation might fast-track Alexander-Arnold into the top squad. But could he defend instead of marauding forward? They set him a test of fire – and temperament.

“It was tough. I’d never really defended. Ever! The following season was a crash course in learning how and getting the right mentality for the first team. That mental side of the game I struggled with – a lot. I was a horrendous sore loser. A mistake during games, if someone got past me, if things weren’t going my way, I’d throw my toys out the pram and that would be bad: I’d give away silly fouls, penalties, free-kicks.

“Hunger needs channelling. It needs to be used. When I made a mistake or gave the ball away, I had to chase back rather than throwing my arms in the air or shouting at myself to the extent that the team was a man down for two or three minutes until I got it back.

“In training, Alex would make the other lads stop and just watch me defend 1v1 and laugh at me if someone got past me. He put talented younger boys up against me. They’d still get past me and it was torture for a full season. Now, I can’t thank him and Critch enough for their unbelievable coaching.”

To complete this mini-portrait of Trent Alexander-Arnold, it’s appropriate to return to those pictures in his head again. Liverpool’s surge to the Madrid Champions League final had many tributaries. But the river reached unstoppable spate at Anfield that night in the semi-final second leg. When a 3-0 deficit was brushed aside. When odds, logic and probabilities weren’t just denied, they were shut out of the magnificent old ground until the tie was 3-3 on aggregate. And Liverpool won a corner.

Our man has been asked about Liverpool’s 4-0 goal that night many times. But now he gives the best answer I’ve yet heard. For anyone who was on the moon that night, or in orbit since, a recap. Just over ten minutes remain, extra time seems likely – but, of course, an away goal from Barça would mean Alexander-Arnold and Co needing to score twice. It’s knife-edge stuff. Liverpool’s right-back goes to line up the corner kick. Barcelona’s defenders are vaguely in the adequate penalty-box positions, but, almost imperceptibly, they are drawing breath, paying scant attention to the ball or what’s happening around it.

Our man seems to accept Xherdan Shaqiri’s petition that he, rather than Alexander-Arnold, should take responsibility for sending the ball towards Marc-André ter Stegen’s goal. The key is that Luis Suárez has walked rather than sprinted to his habitual front post defensive position. There’s not only inattention, but a big gap – which, in about ten seconds, will be filled.

Alexander-Arnold moves away from the ball, but his brain is as sharp as a cold night in November. Suddenly a picture of what might – can – happen eight or ten seconds into the future drops into Alexander-Arnold’s head. Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley … across decades of European dominance, Liverpool’s greats have always preached: “Find the dope!” It’s a legendary phrase. Seek out the opponent who dozes off, even for five or ten seconds, at a dead-ball situation or just before half-time. Then punish them.

So he does, sprinting back to the corner flag and whipping the ball in towards the unmarked Origi. It’s impish, it’s beautiful, it’s inspirational – it’s 4-0 Liverpool and they’re in the final. Which they’ll win. This guy Alexander-Arnold. He’s something else.

“As footballers, we know that when the ball goes out for a throw-in or a corner, especially against our team, players take a deep breath and think: ‘We’ve got 30 seconds here to catch our breath. We can get back into position, wait for the person to get the ball set up.’ That corner came from that knowledge.

“It was just one of those moments where you see everyone switch off and you take your chance. Obviously, it could’ve gone drastically wrong and you get screamed at because you should’ve tried to put it in for Virgil [van Dijk] or Joël [Matip] to score, but Divock was alive in the box and it was an unbelievable finish.”

While Anfield thinks of Alexander-Arnold as ‘theirs’, he thinks the five trophies Liverpool still stand to win this season (having already clinched the UEFA Super Cup) are potentially ‘theirs’ too – if the players work hard enough. If they continue to raise their intensity, if they continue to make Liverpool’s citadel potentially the most remarkable atmosphere in world football.

“I remember playing Manchester City at home. We couldn’t speak – you can’t communicate on the pitch. You’re trying to tell someone to block a space or tell them they’ve got a man on them and they can’t hear you shout. I think the atmospheres we get in Champions League games are probably the best in the competition.

“It’s a fortress at Anfield now, getting back to how it was in the old days. It’s where the club belongs: being in finals, two finals in a row, coming close in the league, challenging for trophies. With the world-class players we’ve got, we shouldn’t ever shy away from the fact that we’re good enough as individuals and as a team to be challenging for trophies, if not multiple trophies, every season.”

On all the evidence, it’s a reasonable assumption that others will have to push themselves to keep up. Nice to meet you, Trent Alexander-Arnold. You’re special.

Fan view
‘LIVING OUR DREAMS’

John Gibbons from the Anfield Wrap podcast explains why Trent was the perfect choice for a celebratory mural

“We wanted to do something to celebrate the Champions League win and had various ideas like an image of Jordan Henderson lifting the trophy or Divock Origi scoring, but we kept coming back to Trent. He’s a local boy and the one living all our dreams on the pitch. He said that amazing quote at the end of the final: ‘I’m just a normal lad from Liverpool whose dream has just come true,’ and it really resonated with a lot of people.

“He is such an inspirational guy for young people in the area not just because he’s an amazing footballer but because of the character he is. He’s an ambassador for a local charity, An Hour for Others, and has this determination to stay humble and normal. When we chose the picture with him, we initially wanted him with his medal as we’d found a really cool image, but he said he didn’t want it to be anything too flash. He wanted something young people could identify with and that sums him up. He wanted something quite low-key – or as low-key as a 30ft mural can be! We’ve dedicated the mural to Fans Supporting Food banks, another local charity, and Trent’s made up with it. When he came to the unveiling, he told us his mum had been down and got a picture with it already!”

Alexander-Arnold’s confession that Liverpool’s potentially traumatic loss to Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final in Kyiv didn’t hurt the then 19-year-old lifelong Liverpool supporter, or his team, anywhere close to as badly as he’d expected.

Initially, it feels like hearing a Kopite say You’ll Never Walk Alone is a dirge and could do with speeding up the beats-per-minute ratio or that he hopes Ole Gunnar Solskjær will prove to be Sir Alex Ferguson Mark II. Defeat in the European Cup final not that painful? Give him a minute, he’ll explain brilliantly.

And the daunting forecast for those seeking to prevent Jürgen Klopp’s side becoming only the second club over the last quarter of a century to reach three consecutive Champions League finals? That there’s been no sating of hunger since the 2-0 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid brought Anfield its sixth European Cup. That this Liverpool squad believes a dominant era is beginning. That, in the words of Bachman–Turner Overdrive, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Alexander-Arnold is between double training sessions when he chats about drive, talent, loss, motivation and pain. He talks like he plays –with verve, intelligence, passion, clarity. Kyiv to begin with.

“Those [Real Madrid] goals: obviously two of them were mistakes and one you’ll probably never see, or concede, again. But after the third goal went in, it felt as though they were just toying with us.

“We couldn’t get the ball; we weren’t creating chances. It was almost as if we knew we weren’t going to score another two goals. [Luka] Modrić, [Toni] Kroos and Isco were just toying with us. They were almost mocking us, the way they were keeping the ball.

“So it was weird because, after that final, it wasn’t as bad a feeling as I thought it would be. You imagine losing a Champions League final is the worst you could feel, but … it wasn’t.”

Forgive me for interrupting the drive of his explanation, but it’s worth you knowing that here, for a second, Trent Alexander-Arnold pauses to make absolutely sure this is truly what he wants to say. That a West Derby boy who grew up playing football on amateur pitches from which you could hear a loud Anfield roar not only feels that losing the ultimate club match wasn’t shattering – but that it instantly transformed into a positive.

Kyiv. Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool. Only the Reds’ third Champions League final in 33 years. Mo Salah’s early tearful injury exit, a couple of high-profile misjudgements from their keeper and … well, THAT extraordinary Gareth Bale overhead goal. All the ingredients to cause sporting and emotional devastation. Once satisfied that he’s ultra-sure of sharing this private emotion, Alexander-Arnold expands.

“It felt … I knew that we’d get back to the final again. I think we all did. We all accepted: ‘Today wasn’t our day, but as a team we’ll be back sooner rather than later. Maybe not next year, but within the next two or three seasons we’ll be back. And we’ll win it.’ We thought: ‘We’ll learn from what just happened and we’ll be back no matter what.’”

It’s purely in a football sense that he expected to feel more pain. The collateral damage really impacted. Alexander-Arnold was acutely aware of the brutal hurt and loss around him – family, fans and those team-mates who knew that they might, by the next final, have moved on.

Salah’s penalty and Divock Origi’s late clincher against Spurs in June mean that this remarkable athlete is now historic: a starter in two consecutive Champions League finals and a winner of the cup with the big ears while still only 20. Kyiv bred Red resilience. Madrid has given birth to a hunger to dominate.

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“After beating Spurs, there were celebrations but with the sense that: ‘This is literally just the beginning.’ Nearly every player in every position is world class and not many, if any, have even hit the heights they can at their full potential, which is incredible. The manager talks about it all the time. We’re still a young side, we’re still learning. We need to evolve, adapt and become better. It’s exciting.”
“As a local lad, it’s about making young kids feel how Gerrard and Carragher made me feel”

“Nearly every player in every position is world class and not many, if any, have even hit the heights they can at their full potential, which is incredible. The manager talks about it all the time. We’re still a young side, we’re still learning. We need to evolve, adapt and become better. It’s exciting.”

Even though he’s already wary of all the backslapping, desperate to get on with trying to win the Premier League and defend those European laurels, Alexander-Arnold is evangelical about one particular thing he experienced at the Estadio Metropolitano. This is a guy who operates off ‘pictures in his head’.

It’s because of that ‘advance image’ in his football brain that Liverpool reached the final. His part in their magical fourth goal against Barcelona on a semi-final night of inspiration and mayhem will live forever – not just in Anfield folklore but whenever and wherever people gather to reminisce about football brilliance. More of that later. But back to what tasted sweetest once the European Cup could be presented to the Kop on tour.

The day before the final, Alexander-Arnold and his left-back brother-in-arms, Andy Robertson, took to the pitch in Madrid. Surveying the cavernous, empty coliseum, they tried to imagine where their families might be seated. Then they asked stewards for help and information.

So, by Saturday night, as winners, they headed off in search of loved ones in those ecstatic post-whistle moments. In doing so, our man wasn’t simply bursting to share his brimming joy – he was bringing to life an inspirational mental image he’d nurtured in his head for years. Take note: dreams don’t come true just because it’s ‘your celestial turn’. They come true because you pursue them relentlessly.

“The picture in my head, which had motivated me over the years, wasn’t me on the pitch with the trophy in my hands: it was about when the fans left the stadium and it was just the players and the families. That was the picture I had in my head. To know that what you’re doing is making the people around you proud, happy, knowing all that they’ve sacrificed for you over the years. Just to be able to see them smile, to see them holding the trophy, getting pictures with it, dreaming …

“They were there the year before. So, that’s what motivated me throughout the season: against Madrid, seeing them crying in the stands, seeing mine and the team’s hearts being broken, shattered, coming so close. Then, hopefully, to see them at the opposite end of the scale and be so over the moon with joy was the motivation for us throughout the rounds of the Champions League.”

Nor do dreams of the magnitude in this Liverpudlian’s psyche come true without sacrifices and, sometimes, painful experiences. Alexander-Arnold’s family threw everything behind him – to the extent that his elder brother had to forsake a fledgling amateur career to go and watch his kid sibling make progress in Liverpool’s academy. “Most of the time, he’d play on a Sunday afternoon, but that’s also when I’d have to be at Liverpool for a match, so his would be sacrificed for mine. Obviously, for an 11-year-old boy, with everyone else going into school on a Monday morning and talking about what result they had the day before or where they are in the league – he can’t join in that banter. It must’ve been incredibly hard.”

It wasn’t retribution (wink) but his big brothers, one of whom now represents Alexander-Arnold’s career negotiations and choices, helped forge his sporting resilience and the flintiness in his mentality. Leo Messi tells an identical story about his two brothers Rodrigo and Matías, perhaps one common to every competitive kid with elder siblings. But if you’re young, small and more talented than the leaders of the pack, watch out. Right, Trent?

“I always played with my brother and his mates, who were four, five years older than me, so when I was as good as them, if not better, taking the ball past them – it’s a pride thing. They’d always knock me over, kick me, trip me up, stuff like that. If someone’s so much younger than you, you think they’re taking the mickey out of you, so you do try and hurt them. From five or six years old, you realise that football’s not just a pretty, beautiful game. Tough days are what make you.”

There’s a special beauty, right enough, in a guy born within a goal kick of Melwood – where every Liverpool great in living memory has trained, where a Boot Room mentality reigned, where European history was built– ending up as one of the Kop’s most cherished luminaries.

Especially as that same kid becomes a Liverpool match mascot along the way, guided on to the pitch by Jamie Carragher and, in due course, one of the academy lads who serves as a ballboy on the day his hero, Steven Gerrard, slips to allow Chelsea a win that crushed the Reds’ title dreams under Brendan Rodgers.

As for his Champions League debut, that comes as a fan, against Juventus at Anfield in spring 2005, when Rafa Benítez’s reign, a few months later, goes on to produce perhaps the most dramatic European Cup final ever. Eventually, this kid then begins to star for the club he loves, playing in one Champions League showpiece aged 19, helping to drive Liverpool back to the following one, 12 months later, and wins. Lifts the trophy “that defines us as a club”. This story is gorgeous. Inspirational. It’s the DNA of football – literally anything can happen if you want it badly enough.

“As a local lad in this team, it’s about making young kids feel how Gerrard and Carragher made me feel; to know that they were just normal young lads who played on the streets of Liverpool and somehow, with all the hard work, they were heroes and legends for our club – not just on the pitch but off the pitch. You give out the right messages and you motivate and you’re a role model for the youngsters in the city, then you will leave a legacy.”

The road to victory required suffering. Real psychological pain. Being ‘transitioned’ from adventurous, happy-go-lucky midfielder into attentive, positionally sound, clean-sheet-obsessed right-back was a pretty brutal process. Immediately when Brendan Rodgers made it clear that he required cover at right-back, Alexander-Arnold intuited that he couldn’t allow any glimpse of the first team to simply be a one-off opportunity. He saw the big picture, early. He and two youth academy coaches, Neil Critchley and Alex Inglethorpe, got together and calculated that positional adaptation might fast-track Alexander-Arnold into the top squad. But could he defend instead of marauding forward? They set him a test of fire – and temperament.

“It was tough. I’d never really defended. Ever! The following season was a crash course in learning how and getting the right mentality for the first team. That mental side of the game I struggled with – a lot. I was a horrendous sore loser. A mistake during games, if someone got past me, if things weren’t going my way, I’d throw my toys out the pram and that would be bad: I’d give away silly fouls, penalties, free-kicks.

“Hunger needs channelling. It needs to be used. When I made a mistake or gave the ball away, I had to chase back rather than throwing my arms in the air or shouting at myself to the extent that the team was a man down for two or three minutes until I got it back.

“In training, Alex would make the other lads stop and just watch me defend 1v1 and laugh at me if someone got past me. He put talented younger boys up against me. They’d still get past me and it was torture for a full season. Now, I can’t thank him and Critch enough for their unbelievable coaching.”

To complete this mini-portrait of Trent Alexander-Arnold, it’s appropriate to return to those pictures in his head again. Liverpool’s surge to the Madrid Champions League final had many tributaries. But the river reached unstoppable spate at Anfield that night in the semi-final second leg. When a 3-0 deficit was brushed aside. When odds, logic and probabilities weren’t just denied, they were shut out of the magnificent old ground until the tie was 3-3 on aggregate. And Liverpool won a corner.

Our man has been asked about Liverpool’s 4-0 goal that night many times. But now he gives the best answer I’ve yet heard. For anyone who was on the moon that night, or in orbit since, a recap. Just over ten minutes remain, extra time seems likely – but, of course, an away goal from Barça would mean Alexander-Arnold and Co needing to score twice. It’s knife-edge stuff. Liverpool’s right-back goes to line up the corner kick. Barcelona’s defenders are vaguely in the adequate penalty-box positions, but, almost imperceptibly, they are drawing breath, paying scant attention to the ball or what’s happening around it.

Our man seems to accept Xherdan Shaqiri’s petition that he, rather than Alexander-Arnold, should take responsibility for sending the ball towards Marc-André ter Stegen’s goal. The key is that Luis Suárez has walked rather than sprinted to his habitual front post defensive position. There’s not only inattention, but a big gap – which, in about ten seconds, will be filled.

Alexander-Arnold moves away from the ball, but his brain is as sharp as a cold night in November. Suddenly a picture of what might – can – happen eight or ten seconds into the future drops into Alexander-Arnold’s head. Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley … across decades of European dominance, Liverpool’s greats have always preached: “Find the dope!” It’s a legendary phrase. Seek out the opponent who dozes off, even for five or ten seconds, at a dead-ball situation or just before half-time. Then punish them.

So he does, sprinting back to the corner flag and whipping the ball in towards the unmarked Origi. It’s impish, it’s beautiful, it’s inspirational – it’s 4-0 Liverpool and they’re in the final. Which they’ll win. This guy Alexander-Arnold. He’s something else.

“As footballers, we know that when the ball goes out for a throw-in or a corner, especially against our team, players take a deep breath and think: ‘We’ve got 30 seconds here to catch our breath. We can get back into position, wait for the person to get the ball set up.’ That corner came from that knowledge.

“It was just one of those moments where you see everyone switch off and you take your chance. Obviously, it could’ve gone drastically wrong and you get screamed at because you should’ve tried to put it in for Virgil [van Dijk] or Joël [Matip] to score, but Divock was alive in the box and it was an unbelievable finish.”

While Anfield thinks of Alexander-Arnold as ‘theirs’, he thinks the five trophies Liverpool still stand to win this season (having already clinched the UEFA Super Cup) are potentially ‘theirs’ too – if the players work hard enough. If they continue to raise their intensity, if they continue to make Liverpool’s citadel potentially the most remarkable atmosphere in world football.

“I remember playing Manchester City at home. We couldn’t speak – you can’t communicate on the pitch. You’re trying to tell someone to block a space or tell them they’ve got a man on them and they can’t hear you shout. I think the atmospheres we get in Champions League games are probably the best in the competition.

“It’s a fortress at Anfield now, getting back to how it was in the old days. It’s where the club belongs: being in finals, two finals in a row, coming close in the league, challenging for trophies. With the world-class players we’ve got, we shouldn’t ever shy away from the fact that we’re good enough as individuals and as a team to be challenging for trophies, if not multiple trophies, every season.”

On all the evidence, it’s a reasonable assumption that others will have to push themselves to keep up. Nice to meet you, Trent Alexander-Arnold. You’re special.

Fan view
‘LIVING OUR DREAMS’

John Gibbons from the Anfield Wrap podcast explains why Trent was the perfect choice for a celebratory mural

“We wanted to do something to celebrate the Champions League win and had various ideas like an image of Jordan Henderson lifting the trophy or Divock Origi scoring, but we kept coming back to Trent. He’s a local boy and the one living all our dreams on the pitch. He said that amazing quote at the end of the final: ‘I’m just a normal lad from Liverpool whose dream has just come true,’ and it really resonated with a lot of people.

“He is such an inspirational guy for young people in the area not just because he’s an amazing footballer but because of the character he is. He’s an ambassador for a local charity, An Hour for Others, and has this determination to stay humble and normal. When we chose the picture with him, we initially wanted him with his medal as we’d found a really cool image, but he said he didn’t want it to be anything too flash. He wanted something young people could identify with and that sums him up. He wanted something quite low-key – or as low-key as a 30ft mural can be! We’ve dedicated the mural to Fans Supporting Food banks, another local charity, and Trent’s made up with it. When he came to the unveiling, he told us his mum had been down and got a picture with it already!”

Alexander-Arnold’s confession that Liverpool’s potentially traumatic loss to Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final in Kyiv didn’t hurt the then 19-year-old lifelong Liverpool supporter, or his team, anywhere close to as badly as he’d expected.

Initially, it feels like hearing a Kopite say You’ll Never Walk Alone is a dirge and could do with speeding up the beats-per-minute ratio or that he hopes Ole Gunnar Solskjær will prove to be Sir Alex Ferguson Mark II. Defeat in the European Cup final not that painful? Give him a minute, he’ll explain brilliantly.

And the daunting forecast for those seeking to prevent Jürgen Klopp’s side becoming only the second club over the last quarter of a century to reach three consecutive Champions League finals? That there’s been no sating of hunger since the 2-0 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid brought Anfield its sixth European Cup. That this Liverpool squad believes a dominant era is beginning. That, in the words of Bachman–Turner Overdrive, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Alexander-Arnold is between double training sessions when he chats about drive, talent, loss, motivation and pain. He talks like he plays –with verve, intelligence, passion, clarity. Kyiv to begin with.

“Those [Real Madrid] goals: obviously two of them were mistakes and one you’ll probably never see, or concede, again. But after the third goal went in, it felt as though they were just toying with us.

“We couldn’t get the ball; we weren’t creating chances. It was almost as if we knew we weren’t going to score another two goals. [Luka] Modrić, [Toni] Kroos and Isco were just toying with us. They were almost mocking us, the way they were keeping the ball.

“So it was weird because, after that final, it wasn’t as bad a feeling as I thought it would be. You imagine losing a Champions League final is the worst you could feel, but … it wasn’t.”

Forgive me for interrupting the drive of his explanation, but it’s worth you knowing that here, for a second, Trent Alexander-Arnold pauses to make absolutely sure this is truly what he wants to say. That a West Derby boy who grew up playing football on amateur pitches from which you could hear a loud Anfield roar not only feels that losing the ultimate club match wasn’t shattering – but that it instantly transformed into a positive.

Kyiv. Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool. Only the Reds’ third Champions League final in 33 years. Mo Salah’s early tearful injury exit, a couple of high-profile misjudgements from their keeper and … well, THAT extraordinary Gareth Bale overhead goal. All the ingredients to cause sporting and emotional devastation. Once satisfied that he’s ultra-sure of sharing this private emotion, Alexander-Arnold expands.

“It felt … I knew that we’d get back to the final again. I think we all did. We all accepted: ‘Today wasn’t our day, but as a team we’ll be back sooner rather than later. Maybe not next year, but within the next two or three seasons we’ll be back. And we’ll win it.’ We thought: ‘We’ll learn from what just happened and we’ll be back no matter what.’”

It’s purely in a football sense that he expected to feel more pain. The collateral damage really impacted. Alexander-Arnold was acutely aware of the brutal hurt and loss around him – family, fans and those team-mates who knew that they might, by the next final, have moved on.

Salah’s penalty and Divock Origi’s late clincher against Spurs in June mean that this remarkable athlete is now historic: a starter in two consecutive Champions League finals and a winner of the cup with the big ears while still only 20. Kyiv bred Red resilience. Madrid has given birth to a hunger to dominate.

“After beating Spurs, there were celebrations but with the sense that: ‘This is literally just the beginning.’ Nearly every player in every position is world class and not many, if any, have even hit the heights they can at their full potential, which is incredible. The manager talks about it all the time. We’re still a young side, we’re still learning. We need to evolve, adapt and become better. It’s exciting.”
“As a local lad, it’s about making young kids feel how Gerrard and Carragher made me feel”

“Nearly every player in every position is world class and not many, if any, have even hit the heights they can at their full potential, which is incredible. The manager talks about it all the time. We’re still a young side, we’re still learning. We need to evolve, adapt and become better. It’s exciting.”

Even though he’s already wary of all the backslapping, desperate to get on with trying to win the Premier League and defend those European laurels, Alexander-Arnold is evangelical about one particular thing he experienced at the Estadio Metropolitano. This is a guy who operates off ‘pictures in his head’.

It’s because of that ‘advance image’ in his football brain that Liverpool reached the final. His part in their magical fourth goal against Barcelona on a semi-final night of inspiration and mayhem will live forever – not just in Anfield folklore but whenever and wherever people gather to reminisce about football brilliance. More of that later. But back to what tasted sweetest once the European Cup could be presented to the Kop on tour.

The day before the final, Alexander-Arnold and his left-back brother-in-arms, Andy Robertson, took to the pitch in Madrid. Surveying the cavernous, empty coliseum, they tried to imagine where their families might be seated. Then they asked stewards for help and information.

So, by Saturday night, as winners, they headed off in search of loved ones in those ecstatic post-whistle moments. In doing so, our man wasn’t simply bursting to share his brimming joy – he was bringing to life an inspirational mental image he’d nurtured in his head for years. Take note: dreams don’t come true just because it’s ‘your celestial turn’. They come true because you pursue them relentlessly.

“The picture in my head, which had motivated me over the years, wasn’t me on the pitch with the trophy in my hands: it was about when the fans left the stadium and it was just the players and the families. That was the picture I had in my head. To know that what you’re doing is making the people around you proud, happy, knowing all that they’ve sacrificed for you over the years. Just to be able to see them smile, to see them holding the trophy, getting pictures with it, dreaming …

“They were there the year before. So, that’s what motivated me throughout the season: against Madrid, seeing them crying in the stands, seeing mine and the team’s hearts being broken, shattered, coming so close. Then, hopefully, to see them at the opposite end of the scale and be so over the moon with joy was the motivation for us throughout the rounds of the Champions League.”

Nor do dreams of the magnitude in this Liverpudlian’s psyche come true without sacrifices and, sometimes, painful experiences. Alexander-Arnold’s family threw everything behind him – to the extent that his elder brother had to forsake a fledgling amateur career to go and watch his kid sibling make progress in Liverpool’s academy. “Most of the time, he’d play on a Sunday afternoon, but that’s also when I’d have to be at Liverpool for a match, so his would be sacrificed for mine. Obviously, for an 11-year-old boy, with everyone else going into school on a Monday morning and talking about what result they had the day before or where they are in the league – he can’t join in that banter. It must’ve been incredibly hard.”

It wasn’t retribution (wink) but his big brothers, one of whom now represents Alexander-Arnold’s career negotiations and choices, helped forge his sporting resilience and the flintiness in his mentality. Leo Messi tells an identical story about his two brothers Rodrigo and Matías, perhaps one common to every competitive kid with elder siblings. But if you’re young, small and more talented than the leaders of the pack, watch out. Right, Trent?

“I always played with my brother and his mates, who were four, five years older than me, so when I was as good as them, if not better, taking the ball past them – it’s a pride thing. They’d always knock me over, kick me, trip me up, stuff like that. If someone’s so much younger than you, you think they’re taking the mickey out of you, so you do try and hurt them. From five or six years old, you realise that football’s not just a pretty, beautiful game. Tough days are what make you.”

There’s a special beauty, right enough, in a guy born within a goal kick of Melwood – where every Liverpool great in living memory has trained, where a Boot Room mentality reigned, where European history was built– ending up as one of the Kop’s most cherished luminaries.

Especially as that same kid becomes a Liverpool match mascot along the way, guided on to the pitch by Jamie Carragher and, in due course, one of the academy lads who serves as a ballboy on the day his hero, Steven Gerrard, slips to allow Chelsea a win that crushed the Reds’ title dreams under Brendan Rodgers.

As for his Champions League debut, that comes as a fan, against Juventus at Anfield in spring 2005, when Rafa Benítez’s reign, a few months later, goes on to produce perhaps the most dramatic European Cup final ever. Eventually, this kid then begins to star for the club he loves, playing in one Champions League showpiece aged 19, helping to drive Liverpool back to the following one, 12 months later, and wins. Lifts the trophy “that defines us as a club”. This story is gorgeous. Inspirational. It’s the DNA of football – literally anything can happen if you want it badly enough.

“As a local lad in this team, it’s about making young kids feel how Gerrard and Carragher made me feel; to know that they were just normal young lads who played on the streets of Liverpool and somehow, with all the hard work, they were heroes and legends for our club – not just on the pitch but off the pitch. You give out the right messages and you motivate and you’re a role model for the youngsters in the city, then you will leave a legacy.”

The road to victory required suffering. Real psychological pain. Being ‘transitioned’ from adventurous, happy-go-lucky midfielder into attentive, positionally sound, clean-sheet-obsessed right-back was a pretty brutal process. Immediately when Brendan Rodgers made it clear that he required cover at right-back, Alexander-Arnold intuited that he couldn’t allow any glimpse of the first team to simply be a one-off opportunity. He saw the big picture, early. He and two youth academy coaches, Neil Critchley and Alex Inglethorpe, got together and calculated that positional adaptation might fast-track Alexander-Arnold into the top squad. But could he defend instead of marauding forward? They set him a test of fire – and temperament.

“It was tough. I’d never really defended. Ever! The following season was a crash course in learning how and getting the right mentality for the first team. That mental side of the game I struggled with – a lot. I was a horrendous sore loser. A mistake during games, if someone got past me, if things weren’t going my way, I’d throw my toys out the pram and that would be bad: I’d give away silly fouls, penalties, free-kicks.

“Hunger needs channelling. It needs to be used. When I made a mistake or gave the ball away, I had to chase back rather than throwing my arms in the air or shouting at myself to the extent that the team was a man down for two or three minutes until I got it back.

“In training, Alex would make the other lads stop and just watch me defend 1v1 and laugh at me if someone got past me. He put talented younger boys up against me. They’d still get past me and it was torture for a full season. Now, I can’t thank him and Critch enough for their unbelievable coaching.”

To complete this mini-portrait of Trent Alexander-Arnold, it’s appropriate to return to those pictures in his head again. Liverpool’s surge to the Madrid Champions League final had many tributaries. But the river reached unstoppable spate at Anfield that night in the semi-final second leg. When a 3-0 deficit was brushed aside. When odds, logic and probabilities weren’t just denied, they were shut out of the magnificent old ground until the tie was 3-3 on aggregate. And Liverpool won a corner.

Our man has been asked about Liverpool’s 4-0 goal that night many times. But now he gives the best answer I’ve yet heard. For anyone who was on the moon that night, or in orbit since, a recap. Just over ten minutes remain, extra time seems likely – but, of course, an away goal from Barça would mean Alexander-Arnold and Co needing to score twice. It’s knife-edge stuff. Liverpool’s right-back goes to line up the corner kick. Barcelona’s defenders are vaguely in the adequate penalty-box positions, but, almost imperceptibly, they are drawing breath, paying scant attention to the ball or what’s happening around it.

Our man seems to accept Xherdan Shaqiri’s petition that he, rather than Alexander-Arnold, should take responsibility for sending the ball towards Marc-André ter Stegen’s goal. The key is that Luis Suárez has walked rather than sprinted to his habitual front post defensive position. There’s not only inattention, but a big gap – which, in about ten seconds, will be filled.

Alexander-Arnold moves away from the ball, but his brain is as sharp as a cold night in November. Suddenly a picture of what might – can – happen eight or ten seconds into the future drops into Alexander-Arnold’s head. Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley … across decades of European dominance, Liverpool’s greats have always preached: “Find the dope!” It’s a legendary phrase. Seek out the opponent who dozes off, even for five or ten seconds, at a dead-ball situation or just before half-time. Then punish them.

So he does, sprinting back to the corner flag and whipping the ball in towards the unmarked Origi. It’s impish, it’s beautiful, it’s inspirational – it’s 4-0 Liverpool and they’re in the final. Which they’ll win. This guy Alexander-Arnold. He’s something else.

“As footballers, we know that when the ball goes out for a throw-in or a corner, especially against our team, players take a deep breath and think: ‘We’ve got 30 seconds here to catch our breath. We can get back into position, wait for the person to get the ball set up.’ That corner came from that knowledge.

“It was just one of those moments where you see everyone switch off and you take your chance. Obviously, it could’ve gone drastically wrong and you get screamed at because you should’ve tried to put it in for Virgil [van Dijk] or Joël [Matip] to score, but Divock was alive in the box and it was an unbelievable finish.”

While Anfield thinks of Alexander-Arnold as ‘theirs’, he thinks the five trophies Liverpool still stand to win this season (having already clinched the UEFA Super Cup) are potentially ‘theirs’ too – if the players work hard enough. If they continue to raise their intensity, if they continue to make Liverpool’s citadel potentially the most remarkable atmosphere in world football.

“I remember playing Manchester City at home. We couldn’t speak – you can’t communicate on the pitch. You’re trying to tell someone to block a space or tell them they’ve got a man on them and they can’t hear you shout. I think the atmospheres we get in Champions League games are probably the best in the competition.

“It’s a fortress at Anfield now, getting back to how it was in the old days. It’s where the club belongs: being in finals, two finals in a row, coming close in the league, challenging for trophies. With the world-class players we’ve got, we shouldn’t ever shy away from the fact that we’re good enough as individuals and as a team to be challenging for trophies, if not multiple trophies, every season.”

On all the evidence, it’s a reasonable assumption that others will have to push themselves to keep up. Nice to meet you, Trent Alexander-Arnold. You’re special.

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‘LIVING OUR DREAMS’

John Gibbons from the Anfield Wrap podcast explains why Trent was the perfect choice for a celebratory mural

“We wanted to do something to celebrate the Champions League win and had various ideas like an image of Jordan Henderson lifting the trophy or Divock Origi scoring, but we kept coming back to Trent. He’s a local boy and the one living all our dreams on the pitch. He said that amazing quote at the end of the final: ‘I’m just a normal lad from Liverpool whose dream has just come true,’ and it really resonated with a lot of people.

“He is such an inspirational guy for young people in the area not just because he’s an amazing footballer but because of the character he is. He’s an ambassador for a local charity, An Hour for Others, and has this determination to stay humble and normal. When we chose the picture with him, we initially wanted him with his medal as we’d found a really cool image, but he said he didn’t want it to be anything too flash. He wanted something young people could identify with and that sums him up. He wanted something quite low-key – or as low-key as a 30ft mural can be! We’ve dedicated the mural to Fans Supporting Food banks, another local charity, and Trent’s made up with it. When he came to the unveiling, he told us his mum had been down and got a picture with it already!”

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