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From the world's best full-back to England's fourth choice, Alexander-Arnold is looking for answers

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Maybe it is best just to start again: Trent Alexander-Arnold meet England, England meet Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Sometimes it’s better to draw a line under initial clumsy attempts to form a relationship and begin afresh.

It feels a little like that with Alexander-Arnold and the national team. Remember, this is a player who was widely recognised as the best right-back in the world in the season in which Liverpool won the Champions League, 2019.

Liverpool and England right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold has struggled form and fitness

Liverpool and England right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold has struggled form and fitness

The cheeky, impulsive corner kick to Divock Origi, to crown the spectacular comeback against Barcelona in the semi-final, was a player at peak of his confidence and totally in command of his unique skills.

How is it, then, that some have him down as fourth-choice England right-back?

It is, of course, partly the fact that England have an embarrassment of riches in the position and two of them, Kyle Walker, 31, playing for the Premier League champions, and Kieran Trippier, 30, voted the best right-back in Spain, have been around longer. And that Reece James, a year younger at 21, is playing for the current European champions. 

England manager Gareth Southgate says it’s his fault, that as a coach he has failed to get the best out of Alexander-Arnold. But whatever the reason, a player who for some is the world’s best full-back has made just 11 starts for England more than three years since making his debut.

‘It’s difficult to say really, isn’t it?’ says the man himself, attempting to explain the conundrum. ‘Because you’re playing a different system, with different players… it’s no excuses but it’s hard to find your feet, to find form. Everyone and anyone is going to have difficulties with that.

Manchester City defender Kyle Walker is now recognised as England's first choice right-back

Manchester City defender Kyle Walker is now recognised as England’s first choice right-back

‘To be fair, since I’ve come into the squad, I haven’t really been the best version of myself, I haven’t put in the performances I have regularly for my club. I expect more for myself when I play for England. 

‘That’s what I try to do every time I get the opportunity and hopefully now over the next week I am given an opportunity to perform and am able to take it. I had a really good game a few years back in the Nations League third-place play-off against Switzerland [in 2019].

‘I thought I played really well then but I just couldn’t hit the ground running after that. Other than that they have been mediocre performances by my standard and that’s what I need to improve. That’s what I have been working on.

‘Obviously with less games come less opportunities. There’s massive competition for a place. It’s probably one of the most over-populated positions, with amazing players so it’s always going to be difficult to find yourself in a position where you are playing regularly. At my club I’m a regular who plays most of the games. I think it is just not finding form and finding the level I need and the level I demand on a daily basis. I have just not been able to reach that bar.’

Dropped from the England squad last March, there was so much consternation and speculation that Southgate singled him out for special treatment in May, calling him to tell him that he would definitely be in his final Euro 2020 squad. 

Gareth Southgate called Alexander-Arnold to assure him that he would be picked for the Euros

‘Because there was a lot of speculation going on — people saying I wasn’t going to be in the squad, people saying I was — and a lot of people voicing their opinion, the manager wanted to set things clear with me and let me know I was going. So, I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on in the media at that point. I had the reassurance from the manager, then I had a clear mind going into the last few games of the season.’ 

Having made the cut, he then suffered a thigh injury in the penultimate game before the championships, ruling himself out of the summer tournament.

‘That was a tough one for me. I had put in a lot of hard work and it was a massive honour being named in the squad. I was looking forward to it and I was up at Middlesbrough with the lads putting in the preparation to get things right at the tournament.

‘Obviously the injury strikes and it’s unfortunate for myself but it is football, these things happen. I felt sorry for myself for a little bit — but after a few days you get over it, and I started working hard to get ready for the start of the season. 

Alexander-Arnold picked up an injury during a warm up match and was ruled out of Euro 2020

Alexander-Arnold picked up an injury during a warm up match and was ruled out of Euro 2020

‘As for the lads, a part of me was disappointed not to be there. I was gutted I was missing out. But at the same time you’re watching your mates achieve special things, things that hadn’t been achieved for the country. So I was proud watching on, seeing the joy in the faces of people watching. At the World Cup [in 2018] I was in that bubble, so you don’t really know what it’s like. You hear all the stories, but when you’re outside that bubble and get to see it first hand, it’s incredible. To see the whole country behind them, it was moving.’ 

Given all that is now behind him and assuming that he starts today against Andorra — not the toughest World Cup qualifier — what more does he have to keep his place for more formidable opposition, such as Poland on Wednesday?

‘We [Southgate and I] have had talks. We talk about things that I’m doing well, things I can improve. We have touched on the defensive side of my game a bit more, to be a bit more reliable and trustworthy in that respect and that’s something I know I need to work on. I know what I need to work on and being able to put that in training and show the coaching staff that I have been and am working on it.’ 

Alexander-Arnold says he's just focused on getting into the England team at the moment

Alexander-Arnold says he’s just focused on getting into the England team at the moment

Jamie Carragher has often explained how, as a Liverpudlian, club always meant more to him than country. It’s not quite that simple for Alexander-Arnold. He remains as wholeheartedly Liverpool’s as Carragher ever was. But he also has ambitions to be part of this extraordinarily talented England squad. 

‘You get a lot more games for your club and most of your time is spent at your club so of course you have that affiliation and those strong feelings,’ he said. ‘But now I’m here I have the same feelings. You know, right now I’m not thinking about what’s happening at the club, I’m thinking about what I can do to get into this team.’

Indeed, why wouldn’t any young pro want to be part of the developing England story. Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling come up in conversation. ‘It’s a lot better playing with them than against them,’ says Alexander-Arnold with a grin. 

Alexander-Arnold is relishing playing alongside the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish

Alexander-Arnold is relishing playing alongside the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish

He has spoken of an ambition of captaining England. ‘Yeah that’s not changed at all. That’s something that I believe I can achieve if I work hard enough. I’ve never really put limitations on myself, I’ve always strived to be the best version of myself at every opportunity I get. I want to win trophies (with England). I want to become a regular. I want to lead the team out and things like that. And I think those things are achievable for me. 

‘Since the manager came in, it has been refreshing for the country. I think there’s a lot less pressure on all of us than past generations and we really thrived from that, getting to semi at the World Cup and the final of the Euros. We’ve obviously spoken about those close calls and missing out and that can go two ways. You either can talk about it and think it’s not for us and feel sorry for yourself or you let those experiences mould you and shape you into winners and getting that winning mentality again and going that one step further and that’s what we’re hoping to do.’

Indeed, rather like he did for his club on missing out on the Champions League in 2018 and the Premier League in 2019. Now to do the same for England.

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