This is what the Guardian’s Andy Hunter wrote about his 2015 Liverpool player for our series the Next Generation, where we pick one player from each Premier League club in the first-year scholar age group and follow their developments for five years.
The 16-year-old has received rave reviews not only from Liverpool and England coaches during a rapid rise up the ranks but also from Steven Gerrard, his boyhood hero, in the former Anfield captain’s new autobiography. Gerrard reveals he asked Pepijn Lijnders, the first-team development coach, to always include Alexander-Arnold in his group when taking his ’B’ Licence course, and handed him the captain’s armband during a comeback game in Liverpool’s Under-18s side last season. “It was my way of telling Trent that I believed he could make it for Liverpool one day,” Gerrard writes.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, who turns 22 on Wednesday, did indeed make it and has now won the Premier League, the Champions League, the Club World Cup and the European Super Cup. He has played more than 130 times for Liverpool and recently gave an insight to what makes him so driven.
“I remember [Liverpool’s academy manager] Alex Inglethorpe breaking it down into a thought process that I’ve never stopped thinking about since,” he told Mr Porter. “It was when I was around 18 and he asked me: ‘When do you retire? Maybe when you’re around 34 or 35.’ That’s 17 years. So, you’ve only got 17 attempts to win the Premier League, 17 attempts to win the Champions League or any other trophy. As much you think that’s a long time, the reality is you get only 17 tries and there will be failure, which is natural and will reduce that number.”
Motivation is clearly a huge component in making it as a professional player but there are many other factors that play a part too: overall mentality, which coaches/managers you have, injuries, your private life and family circumstances among them.
That seven of our 20 picks are playing top-flight football is a remarkable achievement, considering how difficult it is to make it from the academy to the first team. That number is up from three of the 2015 selections and one interesting trend is that we are starting to see more players trying their luck abroad.
Two of the most talented players on the 2015 list, Marcus Edwards (then at Tottenham) and Marcus McGuane (Arsenal) have been abroad with the latter signing for Barcelona in 2018. He is now back in England on loan at Oxford United from Nottingham Forest and Edwards is racking up top-flight experience with Vitória Guimarães in Portugal.
Chelsea’s Trevoh Chalobah has just joined Lorient in Ligue 1 for a season-long loan while one of the biggest successes among the 2015 players is Sunderland’s Josh Maja, who is now an established star at Bordeaux, also in the French top-flight. He has eight goals in 33 Ligue 1 appearances, including one hat-track and has made his international debut for Nigeria.
For the world edition of Next Generation that year we selected 50 players born in 1998 and again there was the expected mix of talent being fulfilled and unfulfilled. There are some standout successes and two of them are at Real Madrid this season: Martin Ødegaard and Federico Valverde.
Of the 50 players on the list 14 have represented their national teams. Twenty-five of them are playing top-flight football around the world with 11 of them in the so-called big five championships (England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany). Four players are currently without a club as far as we are aware.
Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic is arguably the most successful player on the list having played 115 top-flight games in Germany and England as well as 26 Champions League games.
But while the United States international has had an impressively straight journey all the way to the top there are several players on the list who have made it through more circuitous routes. Take Dani Olmo, who left Barcelona at the age of 16 to join Dinamo Zagreb in what appeared to be a left-field career decision. Six years later, however, he has signed for RB Leipzig, scored for them in a Champions League quarter-final and has two caps for Spain. Sometimes first-team football, especially in another country, is worth far more than youth/reserve team football at a big club.
Another mention should go to the Italian-Moroccan Hachim Mastour, who was the most profile player on the 2015 list with millions of followers on social media after Milan had signed him for €500,000 from Reggiana at the age of 14.
The pressure on him was enormous, especially as Morocco handed him his international debut in June 2015 at the age of 16 years old and 363 days. He never made a senior appearance for Milan, going out on loan to Málaga and PEC Zwolle before signing for Lamia in Greece.
After returning to Italy he trained with Parma’s reserves for a while but did not get a contract. How satisfying then to be able to report that he has started this season with Reggiana in Serie B – hoping to rebuild a career that was perhaps doomed to have its ups and downs after such a high-profile start.
It just goes to show that if plan A doesn’t come to fruition, just work hard on Plan B and the likelihood is that you will get there.