As a young boy Trent Alexander-Arnold would dream of what it would be like inside Liverpool’s training ground. Living a stone’s throw from Melwood, he would peer through cracks in the wall to catch a glimpse of his heroes.
He watched as his idols Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Xabi Alonso lifted the Champions League in 2005 and now, aged just 19, he has the chance to emulate them.
The right-back, who still lives at home with his mother and brothers, faces arguably the toughest challenge of his fledgling career against Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League final on 26 May.
It will cap a remarkable rise for Alexander-Arnold, who is set to be the only Liverpudlian starter in Jurgen Klopp’s team for Kiev having made his senior debut just 17 months ago.
As if that wasn’t enough, the uncapped defender could be named in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad on Wednesday.
Factor in the fact that Alexander-Arnold’s football story started by pure luck when his name was picked out of a hat to attend a Liverpool summer camp, and clearly his is a tale worth hearing.
Here, Alexander-Arnold tells the BBC’s sports editor Dan Roan about “father figure” Klopp, marking Mohamed Salah in training, his England hopes and why, despite earning Premier League wages, he isn’t allowed to leave home just yet.
DR: Take us back to the beginning. Where did you grow up and how did you first start your footballing journey?
TAA: I grew up close to Melwood, five to 10 minutes away in West Derby. I was always in and around the local area, playing football with my brothers and friends and at school. Any way I could really. I played for three local teams on the weekends. I played for Liverpool during the week and often at weekends.
As a kid I used to go and wait at the gates of Melwood or look through the cracks in the wall, just see if I could see any of the people I was looking up to, who we all wanted to aspire to become, when we were in the Champions League, the likes of Gerrard, Carragher and Alonso.
Every time I went pass I’d dream of how it would be and I’d have a picture in my head what it would be like.
|Liverpool debut 25 October 2016 v Tottenham in EFL Cup|
|43 Liverpool appearances and three goals|
|Premier League debut 14 December 2016 v Middlesbrough|
|Liverpool Young Player of the Year award 2017 and 2018|
|Played at every England youth level from U16s to U21s|
How did you come to be in the academy?
It’s quite a funny story. I was about six and Liverpool had a community summer camp. They sent a few invites to my school and my age group, to my class specifically, and they were like, ‘who wants to go?’ So every lad in the class put their hands up as you’d imagine, so the only fair way was to pick names out of a hat and luckily my name was picked out.
I went along on the half-term and then within about 30 minutes of the first session, one of the scouts or coaches, went over to my mum and said, ‘will you start bringing him up two or three times a week from now on?’ and since then I’ve been a Liverpool player.
How important is it to you to be local hero?
Massive. I think when I was growing up and I saw the likes of Gerrard, Carragher – the homegrown players, the scousers – in the team it always gave me a bit more inspiration and motivation.
It can happen to local lads with the hard work and talent and drive. If you dedicate yourself to it enough it’ll happen. With them being there, that gave me a lot more motivation than maybe if it weren’t local players. Hopefully that’s how the young players of the academy and the kids in and around Liverpool look up to me now.
What was it like living in West Derby? You used to play with your brothers?
We lived on a main road so it was never really safe for us to go outside the garden so me and my brothers would always stay inside the garden. There was a park over the road so if we ever did go out, it would just be to the park where my mum could still see us from our garden so she always had eyes on us where we were.
At that age you just want to play and beat your brothers and I think that breeds competitiveness.
You still live with your family?
My mum and my brothers – it’s just a really close family. They are against me [moving out] because I think a lot of young players move out too quickly. They start earning decent money and you think that you can cope with things and then I think that’s when things start to go wrong.
I think my mum and my family want to keep a close eye on me, don’t want things getting in to my head, so I think for the time being, until we all reach a general agreement that I have enough to move out, then I’ll be stuck here.
Without them I definitely wouldn’t be in the place I am now. It was always good to be able to come home and share the good moments as well as the bad moments. Just to experience everything with them and see them being proud of me is unbelievable.
And they help keep you grounded?
The family and friends and the people I surround myself allow me to keep my feet firmly on the floor and not get too big-headed. I was told myself it couldn’t happen to me. No matter how good you are, your mentality has got to be right.
A lot of young players, that’s where they go wrong and that’s what I’ve always seen when I was growing up – players who are almost there but couldn’t quite get there because the mentality wasn’t right.
You will be up against five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo as Real Madrid seek a third consecutive Champions League title…
As a player you want to test yourself, you want to put yourself against the best players that you can and to get that opportunity hopefully in Kiev on a huge stage it doesn’t really come bigger than that so I think the excitement levels are high.
Tell me about Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and the faith he has shown in you.
He’s the manager that I came up through, he is the one who gave me my chances. He was always there to give me support, still is a fatherly figure in that sense. [He] is a truthful person, which is an attribute that all managers should have – just tell you what you need to improve on and how you can get into the team.
You have had a meteoric rise this season, what’s it like to reflect on now?
Incredible. I think looking back now to the start of the season, I would never have guessed being in this situation – such high-profile games, so much trust from the manager and such support from the fans. It’s been an incredible journey for me and the family.
What do you put your success down to?
Hard work, I think that is the foundation for everything. I think growing up from the age of six, that’s when I first started, so hard work on a daily basis is how you lay the foundation and that’s when your talent takes over and you try show what you can do.
This is your breakthrough season, how have you matured?
I feel that when I look back on last season I was a bit immature, a bit rash in challenges, decision-making in pressurised situations, but I think that the more games you play, the more minutes you play, the more in and around the first team you are, the easier it becomes. You get used to situations you’ve not been in before. You get used opposition fans booing you, shouting stuff. When you get thrown into the deep end, that helps you as a young player.
How do you deal with criticism?
Again, it’s family, they’ll have the right advice. They know what to say when things aren’t going well and it’s a part of football that you make mistakes. It’s about how you get over them how you use them to your advantage. Mistakes I’ve made throughout the season help me try not make them again.
What is it about Liverpool and in Europe do you think?
I think it’s the support, we’ve had so many historic nights – great comebacks, different types of wins. I think the fans just believe that when we are in that competition, when you get the floodlights on in Anfield, you get the Champions League song on, it’s a different place to go to. It’s so much harder for the opposition, especially Manchester City. They’d been there in the league and they thought, ‘oh, it’ll be the same’ but it’s a completely different place on a European night. I think it’s just down to the fans and the belief.
Do you have to sometimes mark Salah in training, what’s that like?
Yeah tough, very, very tough. The front three are hard to deal with, especially in training. But it prepares you for the weekend. I think if you’re training against that calibre of players during the week, it can only prepare you in the right way for during the weekend.
Who is the hardest opponent you have come up against in the Premier league so far?
Probably [Manchester City’s Leroy] Sane I’d say. He is just a world-class player, really good. It’s good to play against the world-class players and I enjoy playing against really good wingers.
How much belief is there that Liverpool can win the Champions League?
We have got one game left and to say that you’re in the Champions League final is great, but to say that you win it is even better and that’s what all of the lads want. We want to win it we’re not going to the final to roll over and lose.
Is it sometimes hard to believe the whole of the footballing world will be watching you up against Cristiano Ronaldo?
I don’t think I’ve really taken it yet. I can’t think too far ahead and have an important game on Sunday [to secure] Champions League football for next season, which at this moment is more important than Kiev. But after the Brighton game, that’s when our full focus goes to Kiev.
Lots of players are new to the Champions League including myself, so we’re not really used to playing three games in the week, but saying that I think we’ve coped well with it.
You were invited to train with the England squad in March, what was that like?
It was exciting because throughout the season so far I was playing against the players I was going to train with, so I was opposition to a lot of them It was strange to go and be in a friendly environment with them when most of the time its hostile. So yeah, it was different but I enjoyed it thoroughly and I was grateful for the opportunity.
What will it mean to earn an England cap?
Again, like your local team, it’s an honour to represent your country and growing up you watch all the major tournaments, you watch all the qualifiers, you watch all the friendlies, you get the kits when the new kits come out and to put on the white shirt hopefully one day would be incredible.
Dan Roan, BBC sports editor
Mum is cooking tea in the kitchen, while younger brother comes in from school.
It’s not your average setting for an interview with a Premier League footballer. But Trent Alexander-Arnold’s success is very much a family affair, and despite a breakthrough season that has seen him propelled from relative obscurity to the Champions League final, and possibly the World Cup, the 19-year-old defender is managing to keep his feet firmly on the ground.
Alexander-Arnold puts that down to the influence of the coaches he credits with his meteoric rise – the likes of Ian Barrigan, Alex Inglethorpe and Neil Critchley at Liverpool’s academy, and of course his family.
Even with a potential place in Russia this summer beckoning, this is a young man who regularly goes out to the back garden with his brothers for a kickabout on his days off. The Alexander-Arnolds may now live in a leafier suburb of the city than the tougher West Derby district of Liverpool where they grew up, but he still comes across as level-headed and humble.
In the cosmopolitan world of the Premier League, a genuine homegrown youngster going from the U8s of his boyhood club’s academy all the way through to the first team is becoming unusual, especially at the biggest, richest clubs. But Alexander-Arnold is precisely the kind of player that the clubs – and the FA – want to see on the elite development pathway.
Scouted early, coached at St George’s Park, capped by his country at every junior age-group, professional and an emblem of his club.
The future for one of English football’s brightest young prospects appears bright.