Trent Alexander-Arnold will likely be the subject of much debate throughout his career.
Never before has a top-level team relied so heavily on a full-back as a creative force to so much success. Dani Alves was a major part of Barcelona’s attacking play but, naturally, even the great Brazilian played a secondary role to the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
Alexander-Arnold, however, is different.
Liverpool’s play is structured around him as the player to unpick locks. Mohamed Salah’s individual brilliance is one thing but, without Alexander-Arnold, it’s hard to see where Liverpool’s creativity comes from.
For all of his quality, Andy Robertson just does not offer the kind of game-changing genius his teammate on the opposite flank does.
Granted, there may be more diligent defenders in world football but the 23-year-old is largely over the kind of problems he endured earlier in his career. Frankly, he would not be playing for one of the best teams in the world if his defending was anywhere near as bad as rival fans would like to think it is.
So then, what will become of his England career?
In many ways, Alexander-Arnold’s career with England is starting to reflect that of Paul Scholes’. An obviously supremely talented footballer, there does not appear to be a natural place for him, while other options offer more of a defined role.
Take Reece James for example. Few would doubt the Chelsea star’s quality and, while optics aren’t the most important thing in the world, the simple fact of James looking more solid than Alexander-Arnold.
Kieran Trippier – though probably a level below both – has the benefit of experience, a value Gareth Southgate rates highly.
Even below that, Kyle Walker-Peters has made a case for himself with a number of strong performances in a tactically advanced (though strangely inconsistent) Southampton side. Ben White has even been tried in the right-back role, too.
Scholes’ decision to retire from international football early after Euro 2004 is widely thought to have been because he did not enjoy being shunted out to the left of midfield in order to accommodate Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
The Manchester United legend, however, has since gone on record to say he just did not enjoy playing for England, a view seemingly shared by many of the so-called “Golden Generation”, even those who did not retire early.
Now, only Alexander-Arnold can say how highly he values representing England, although the frequency with which he drops out of squads is certainly worth noting.
Even when he has been selected, it’s hard to think of a game in which his talents have been used to their best. Whether that is a failing on his part or of Southgate’s is up for debate, but it does seem strange that a player redefining his role at club level has not convinced on the international stage.
Indeed, there was even the rather botched experiment to deploy the Liverpool star in central midfield during a World Cup qualifier against Andorra, a sign of England not really knowing what to do with him.
Already, his England career has all the hallmarks of being somewhat of a waste. Unlike Scholes, however, the national team are enjoying a period of relative success, with there seemingly being little urge for Southgate to find an answer.
The 2022 World Cup should be one in which we saw Alexander-Arnold’s career flourish. A youth option for the 2018 edition in Russia, it’s odd that one of Europe’s very best isn’t even guaranteed his place in the squad.
Again, that is not to blame Southgate necessarily, or even the player himself. It’s just that, like Scholes before him, the mercurial Alexander-Arnold may never establish himself for England.
That, of course, will be Liverpool’s gain.