Gareth Southgate is obliterated by the media for his ‘treatment’ of Trent Alexander-Arnold. He’s a Harry Potter fan, for crying out loud.
Right back at ya
It takes a certain sort of person to watch England draw 3-3 with Germany at Wembley and then decide to write about someone who didn’t play. But Trent Alexander-Arnold does strange things to the British media and Andy Dunn of the Daily Mirror wants a word:
‘If Alexander-Arnold cannot make a squad of 23 footballers, it must be one hell of a squad. Simple as that.’
Well it’s pretty good. Plus they have reached a World Cup semi-final and European Championship final in the last four years, with Alexander-Arnold playing a single game – a group-stage dead-rubber – across those two tournaments.
There is another option: If Alexander-Arnold cannot make a squad of 23 footballers, it must mean he doesn’t suit the manager’s preferred system and has done nothing over the course of his 14 starts and 17 appearances for England to change that idea.
Try and think of a single good game Alexander-Arnold has had with England. We will wait.
We didn’t wait. Sorry.
‘The line used by those who back Southgate’s treatment of Alexander-Arnold is that he prefers defenders who can defend.’
Look, you can disagree with how Alexander-Arnold is used on the international stage, but referring to ‘Southgate’s treatment’ of the right-back, as if he is being punished or overlooked with absolutely no explanation, is deliberately provocative and unhelpful.
There are legitimate reasons why England do not build around Alexander-Arnold, whether or not you choose to accept them.
‘Southgate shows great loyalty towards Harry Maguire but has never been a great advocate of Alexander-Arnold’s from day one.’
Southgate named Alexander-Arnold in his 2018 World Cup squad despite him being a one-cap teenager whose entire Premier League career consisted of 20 starts.
And as ever with this debate, Southgate’s own very public and very clear thoughts on the matter have been ignored. Here is what he said in March 2021:
“I feel like I have got to look at myself a bit with Trent. I don’t feel that he has hit that level he’s hit with Liverpool here with England, and other players have. So there is an element of me having to look at how can we do that, because we know some of the qualities that he brings.”
The England coach has always accepted much of the blame for not getting the best out of this particular England player. And considering the nuances of international management and not being able to work with a squad regularly, it is at least vaguely understandable why he favours players he knows and trusts over a brilliant one he does not.
As Jamie Carragher said the last time the media absolutely shat itself over an Alexander-Arnold omission: ‘What we have to realise is playing for England under Southgate is never going to be the same as for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.’
Klopp wants a playmaker at right-back and has tweaked his system to accommodate that (because he has an entire pre-season and numerous training sessions a week to do so).
Southgate doesn’t want a playmaker at right-back, has tried tweaking his system to accommodate said playmaker to no avail, and does not have the luxury of time or consistent coaching sessions to do so. Simple as that.
A case for the defence
Dunn then adds, of Chelsea defender Reece James:
‘The idea that James is defensively superior to Alexander-Arnold is dubious, to say the least.’
Apropos of nothing, Dunn is a Liverpool fan. But he should still know that is a load of b*llocks.
Stuck in the middle with you
The next idea to crowbar Alexander-Arnold into the England team is entirely fresh, unique and sensible: just move him further forward.
‘Southgate, who once gave Alexander-Arnold a 45-minute run-out in midfield, clearly does not consider the Liverpool man to be versatile enough to play anywhere else,’ Dunn writes of a player whose entire Liverpool senior career has been played at right-back, aside from a couple of stints at wing-back about five years ago and a 65-minute run-out in midfield against Stoke in a 0-0 draw in April 2018.
Klopp clearly does not consider the Liverpool man to be versatile enough to play anywhere else either.
‘When Southgate handed him that spin in the middle of the park against Andorra, it was almost as though the England manager wanted to prove to Trent’s backers that he could NOT play there.’
Alternatively, he started Alexander-Arnold in central midfield against the kindest possible opponent to see if he could play there and it backfired.
But no, the famously vindictive Southgate played Alexander-Arnold in midfield once because he wanted him to fail there.
A reminder that Alexander-Arnold’s half of football in central midfield – against the actual Andorra – consisted of one off-target shot, the second-lowest passing accuracy of any England player, no chances created and no dribbles.
He was poor there and looked considerably better playing at right-back in the second half. Because he is a right-back.
Andorra the explorer
Dunn is not alone. Martin Samuel wants to flog this dead horse, too.
‘If defending is his weakness, why hasn’t more effort been made to see if he can be converted to midfield?’ he asks in the Daily Mail. To which Southgate might reply: ‘Because I get to work with these players for about a week every few months and recasting a career right-back as a central midfielder would probably take longer than a couple of training sessions. And it has also never worked for either club or country.’
‘Gareth Southgate did try him there, at home to Andorra, in September last year. Alexander-Arnold struggled to find space in a crowded midfield against a team with no ambition beyond 10-man defence, and the experiment was abandoned at half-time.’
It’s a real mystery as to why.
‘Why not keep him there at least until Andorra tired?’
Because England fixtures are not designed specifically to cater to Trent John Alexander-Arnold.
The Daily Mail player ratings from that match were written by Adrian Kajumba, who wrote: ‘In unfamiliar midfield role and did not look overly comfortable. Was unable to stamp his mark on things and moved at break to more familiar right-sided role.’
England were 1-0 up with Alexander-Arnold in midfield. They won 4-0 when he switched to right-back. Why is this even a debate?
‘Alexander-Arnold has in the past seconded Southgate’s position, saying entering midfield areas feels natural, rather than occupying midfield as a starting position,’ Samuel continues, having also quoted Klopp as asking: ‘Why make the best right back in the world a midfielder?’
Both his club and international manager don’t see the point in converting him. The player himself has literally said he doesn’t like the idea. It is truly bizarre this has come back up as a means to force him into the England squad when he would just become a midfielder on the bench instead of a right-back on the bench.
‘Meanwhile, Germany’s midfield playmaker – the creative role Southgate says England sorely lack – is Joshua Kimmich. You may remember him as a right back.’
And you may know full well that Kimmich was first used and coached in different positions by Bayern Munich not Germany. He was converted into a ‘midfield playmaker’ with his club and then his country took advantage. It’s a completely different situation until Liverpool start replacing Thiago with Alexander-Arnold.
But what’s the point in moving Alexander-Arnold into midfield? That’s not even nearly far enough.
‘Southgate needs to ditch the three-at-the-back plan and revert to a back four, with two holding midfielders for protection ahead of what we hope will be some crucial knockout games against leading nations in the World Cup,’ writes Jeremy Cross of the Daily Mirror, picking his team for Qatar.
‘Eric Dier has done enough to replace Harry Maguire, while Trent Alexander-Arnold’s sumptuous right foot needs exploiting in an advanced role.
‘Phil Foden can pull the strings in the No.10 position and Harry Kane is more than capable of operating as the lone striker.’
Cross then presents his XI with Alexander-Arnold on the right of a front three behind Kane. Why not just try him up front?
Not one for hyperbole, Dominic King of the Daily Mail describes the Alexander-Arnold exclusion as ‘one of the most remarkable decisions around an England team in Southgate’s six-year reign’.
Naming the Liverpool right-back in his squad and then leaving him out for the games against Italy and Germany ‘borders on the nonsensical’ and ‘from a PR point of view for the FA, it is a calamity’.
Questionable? Perhaps. Controversial? Maybe. But ‘a serious accident or bad event causing damage or suffering’? Erm…
‘Do not think for one moment that Alexander-Arnold hasn’t been hurt by his omission.’
Well of course he has. It can’t be nice but Southgate is England manager and many players will be disappo…oh, you’re not done?
‘He’s a quiet soul, who reads Harry Potter books, plays chess and practises free-kicks, and he desperately wants to be the player for England that he has been for Liverpool.’
‘If Alexander-Arnold is harbouring any feelings that he has not been given a fair crack of the whip by Southgate, they are entirely justified in light of Monday’s events.’
There’s that ‘fair crack of the whip’ line again. Alexander-Arnold has never played above-average for England at best. He has been given chances to impress and make himself undroppable but they have not been taken.
‘To give this perspective, since August 2019, Alexander-Arnold has won the European Super Cup, Club World Cup, Premier League, Carabao Cup, FA Cup, and played his third Champions League final. He’s a breathtaking player, one with rare gifts.’
And he is a phenomenal player for his club. No-one doubts that. For his country? Not so much. That feels important when discussing his England hopes. More important than his predilection for chess, anyway.
Winter is coming
‘Gareth Southgate’s treatment of Trent Alexander-Arnold borders on the brutal and the bizarre,’ is an incredibly strong start from Henry Winter in The Times and things only ramp up from there.
The decision not to play him for even a single minute against Italy and Germany is ‘pitiless and perplexing’, particularly as Alexander-Arnold ‘dutifully reported for this week-long England camp, trained in his usual dedicated fashion’ and probably waited until the evenings to read a few chapters of The Chamber of Secrets.
This is an ‘almost cruel’ example of ‘cold-shouldering’ from Southgate to the ‘patriotic’ and ‘committed’ Alexander-Arnold, ‘a cold, brutal statement’ about how Southgate ‘does not trust a player’ with a litany of trophies for Liverpool.
Winter strangely does not go on to list all the good games Alexander-Arnold has ever played for England.
‘As for England, as Southgate is fixated with playing with a back five, then why not field Alexander-Arnold at wingback?’
Because he’s not a wing-back. Same reason Eric Dier isn’t being used as a No.10.
Mediawatch does not disagree that ‘it’s England loss’ in terms of how Alexander-Arnold’s effectiveness for Liverpool has not been replicated at international level. But again, there are obvious reasons for that and not all of them involve ‘Southgate’s treatment’ of a right-back who needs a system built around him.
‘Watch Zlatan’s tattooed bum twitch as he undergoes electrotherapy rehab’ – The Sun website.
‘No’ – Mediawatch.