David Beckham talked up Trent Alexander-Arnold this week. During his rise at Liverpool, he’s largely performed as a modern version of the Manchester United legend.
Around 30 years ago, a young prospect by the name of David Beckham made his debut for Manchester United. He was slight, inexperienced and still very much learning the game, but one overwhelming quality of his shone above everything else, with the starlet supremely gifted on the technical side of the game.
The prospect, who would go on to captain England, was graceful and serene when in possession, and he developed a reputation over time for his ability to deliver pinpoint passes and crosses to his offensive teammates. Beckham was a master crosser and passer, and he still holds the Premier League record for most goals scored from direct free-kicks.
It was Sir Alex Ferguson who got the most from his skill set before his high-profile transfer to Real Madrid in 2003. The Scot was known for favouring 4-4-2 as his go-to system, with Beckham regularly fielded on the right of midfield, encouraged to feed the likes of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Eric Cantona and Ruud van Nistelrooy to name but a few.
The 4-4-2 approach was very much in fashion back then. It was used by the large majority of sides in England’s top flight, with Manchester United often possessing the best wingers to make use of the flanks, coupling those players with clinical strikers who offered a threat in the air.
English football doesn’t tend to produce players like Beckham. Instead, players who are packed full of industry, fight, physicality and power tend to emerge from British shores, rather than subtle technicians like those often produced by nations such as Spain, Brazil, Portugal and Argentina.
Beckham broke the mould in many ways and over two decades later, his reincarnation made his Premier League debut, this time emanating from Merseyside rather than Manchester. His name was Trent Alexander-Arnold, and he’s since evolved into quite the superstar for Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp.
Like Beckham, the Scouse academy graduate possessed innate technical prowess. His passing range was elaborate, his crosses were sometimes impossible to defend against, and his quality from dead-ball situations seems to be improving with every passing season.
The big difference, however, stems from Alexander-Arnold’s role on the pitch, as the game has changed in a tactical sense since Beckham first took to the grass at Old Trafford all those years ago.
Instead of being deployed in midfield, the 24-year-old has established himself as a right-back in Klopp’s side, albeit one who behaves like an attacking player more often than not. As football tactics have been tweaked over the years, wide attackers have changed from wingers to inside forwards who cut inside as opposed to hitting crosses into the penalty box.
Beckham is right-footed and used to be deployed on the right flank during his days as a player, which encouraged him to dart towards the corner flag before delivering crosses for his teammates. The likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Luis Díaz, however, are commonly fielded on the opposite side to their preferred foot, which fosters shots and goals, not crosses and assists.
The tactical evolution has impacted Alexander-Arnold, as unlike Beckham, he’s instead had to form part of his team’s defensive line, but all while playing like the ex-Red Devils star whenever Liverpool secure possession, showcasing incisive passes, dangerous switches of play and whipped crosses whenever he’s on the pitch.
Beckham registered a total of 80 assists in the Premier League, and Alexander-Arnold already has 41 to his name. When asked about the Reds talisman in Qatar this week, the Inter Miami owner stated: “Just keep doing whatever you’re doing, because you can cross a ball.”
Indeed, Alexander-Arnold has been touted to play in midfield throughout his time at Anfield, with Gary Lineker stating as much in his BBC coverage recently. “I think Trent is a player who should be playing in midfield, I always have done,” said the ex-Everton striker. “By accident, he’s fallen into right-back, which he plays brilliantly and he’s as good a crosser as you could ever see.
The calls for Liverpool’s number 66 to play further forward aren’t going to go away any time soon, and much of that talk could be attributed to Beckham’s career. But Klopp knows what is best for his young star. As a midfielder, his influence could be stifled in the modern game, whereas as a right-back, he can run proceedings and operate as a true difference-maker.