Football tends to change very quickly. Both within games and around them.
Trent Alexander-Arnold feels like an excellent example of that, as shown by is his omission from Gareth Southgate’s England squad last month. Discussions surrounding that decision haven’t really stopped since it was announced three weeks ago – and understandably so. He looked a near-certain inclusion in the Euro 2020 squad a few months ago.
There are other reasons the 22-year-old right-back is such a good example, though. Since making his Liverpool debut four-and-a-half years ago, just a few weeks after Southgate was appointed as Three Lions boss, he’s been a lot of things.
He’s been the 18-year-old academy graduate who – in his first Reds appearance on October 26, 2016 – was disciplined enough to play most of a 2-1 League Cup victory over Spurs on a yellow card.
He’s been the 19-year-old new kid on the domestic, continental and international block – and Champions League finalist.
He’s been the 20-year-old assists record breaker – and Champions League winner.
He’s been the 21-year-old redefiner of the right-back role, established England international – and Premier League winner.
That’s quite the development trajectory, and quite the list of achievements, for a 22-year-old.
Alexander-Arnold has been – and continues to be – a genuine game-changer. His unique combination of an exceptional passing and crossing range, pace, dribbling ability and general vision and creativity is rare, different – and therefore valuable.
There is little doubt that 2020/21 has been the most challenging season of his senior career so far. The squad announcement was another notable bookmark in a campaign which began with him suffering from COVID-19 during pre-season and was interrupted by a calf injury in November – which, significantly, kept him out of that month’s internationals too.
His form has been patchy as well, albeit when comparing it to his exceptionally high-quality and consistent performances of recent years.
There are also the injuries around him. He hasn’t been able to thrive within Jürgen Klopp’s system to the same extent as a result. Recent displays have been at more familiar levels, though.
Team structure is a key element of the context here. Southgate’s job, needless to say, is to consider what Alexander-Arnold can offer within England’s system – not Liverpool’s.
It is also, more prudently, his job to make England the best they can be, not to make the best use of individual players.
His latest squad was, perhaps, a sign that – at present – he feels Kyle Walker, Reece James and Kieran Trippier are a better fit for that process. But Alexander-Arnold remains different – and he also matches up well on the defensive statistics front.
Different is the key word, here. He may not be a natural fit for elements of England’s play, but he can offer a collection of attributes and threats that hardly any other players can. Variety and unpredictability can be key within tournament football’s fine margins.
From the start or from the bench, England shouldn’t miss the chance to have an ace in the pack. He can change their game, if they need him to.