The mainstream media are too scared to ask the questions that need answering, but I’m not. So here goes: when is Trent Alexander-Arnold going to acknowledge that he owes his entire career to Leeds United, and to Marco Silvestri in particular?
Alexander-Arnold made his second appearance for Liverpool in a League Cup quarter-final against Leeds in November 2016. A baby-faced and scrawny eighteen year old, Alexander-Arnold was standing still at right-back while Leeds were creating the best chances of the night, then had the gall to collect the player of the match award after two late goals put Liverpool through.
Ever since watching the game in that sorely missed mecca of Leeds culture, Shooters, I’ve irrationally held this against Alexander-Arnold, convinced he did nothing to deserve the accolade. He lost possession with his first touch and let the ball roll across his body and out of play with what was meant to be his second. As Leeds were starting to get excited after the break, his sloppy pass put a teammate into trouble, allowing Kalvin Phillips to tackle the ball to Kemar Roofe. Without a goal in his first 21 appearances since becoming Leeds’ most expensive signing since Robbie Fowler, Roofe had his moment, arcing a shot towards the top corner, only to hit a post.
I’d bet on Roofe to score first. It didn’t feel right blaming the woodwork, an inanimate object, or Roofe himself, a Leeds player. Instead I cursed Alexander-Arnold, whose mistake presented the opportunity in the first place.
An assist for Divock Origi’s eventual opener was enough for Alexander-Arnold to win player of the match. Even then, he had Silvestri to thank for failing to decide whether to come for the cross or stay on his line, in the end doing neither. As Alexander-Arnold was celebrating, Luke Ayling was giving Silvestri a glare later given to the goalkeeper’s godfather, Kiko Casilla. Ben Woodburn then became Liverpool’s youngest ever scorer with another easy goal. I still hold a grudge against Woodburn too — even Jurgen Klopp said, “It was not too difficult. I would have scored in that situation” — but he’s at least had the good grace to do nothing with his career since.
The whole fixture is a lesson in the unpredictability of player development. Who among the raucous away end was looking at Leeds’ starting back four and thinking Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi would be the players to get us promoted, not Kyle Bartley and Charlie Taylor? What about in midfield, where Kalvin Phillips only got a game because Eunan O’Kane was injured in the first half — how many fans thought he was a better prospect than his midfield partner on the night, Ronaldo Vieira? Less foresight was needed in attack. Souleymane Doukara was a lost cause. Hadi Sacko was much the same, although while he rarely did anything right, he at least tried to do something fun.
A player’s career is often determined by being in the right place at the right time. That night at Anfield was the moment for Alexander-Arnold, crossing towards Silvestri. Is he grateful to Leeds United for giving him the opportunity to win European Cups and Premier League titles? Judging by the sight of him swanning around England’s midfield refusing to pass to Patrick Bamford, absolutely not. Don’t think I’m not petty enough to hold that against him as well. ◉(Every magazine online, every podcast ad-free. Click here to find out how to support us with TSB+)