This time last year, 19-year old Trent Alexander-Arnold was playing in Liverpool’s reserve team. Now he is prepping to defend against Cristiano Ronaldo in next week’s Champions League final and is also the headline pick of Gareth Southgate’s 23-man England World Cup squad named yesterday. He still lives with his mother.
"I believe this is a squad which we can be excited about," said England coach Gareth Southgate, who has stuck to his footballing beliefs and avoided the tendency of some of his predecessors to opt for established names over form players.
The contrast with previous English squads is stark. The 23-man group named on Wednesday has a total of only 449 caps, making it the most inexperienced English World Cup team this century. All but two players are under the age of 30 and only one player has over 38 caps.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart, who played in the last three major English tournaments, was notably left off the list despite being Southgate’s No. 1 choice just 5 months ago. The long-time England goalie has made frequent errors this season and recently lost his place while on loan to West Ham from Manchester City. Southgate will be taking goalkeepers Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, and uncapped Nick Pope instead, trusting their better recent performances over a lack of international experience.
Jack Wilshere, the injury-prone midfielder who last played for England in the country’s humiliating 2-1 loss to Iceland in the final 16 of Euro 2016, was also overlooked.
The big changes brought about during Southgate’s 18-months in charge are part of the manager’s refreshing new strategy for England.
"We have a lot of energy and athleticism in the team," Southgate said, "but players that are equally comfortable in possession of the ball and I think people can see the style of play we've been looking to develop."
Young Alexander-Arnold has all of that, and more. He only made his senior debut for Liverpool only 17 months ago but is now a regular at right back in Jurgen Klopp's team, which will contest the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 26th.
Lean, fast, and strong in the tackle, Alexander-Arnold is an archetypal modern-day full back — attacking, energetic, and with a good delivery. He often takes free kicks and has recently played in midfield in Premier League matches.
But the teenager is uncapped, though he has been training with the English team since March.
"Dreamt of going to a World Cup since I was a kid," tweeted Alexander-Arnold, who — some could argue — is still is a kid. "Today that dream came true."
Other youngsters were also named in Southgate’s squad, including 21-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford. "Mum we're off to the World Cup!" Rashford said recently on Twitter.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is another bold selection by Southgate, a midfielder who was not deemed good enough to play for Chelsea this season but has impressed on loan at Crystal Palace and starred on his international debut against Germany in November.
Including versatile defenders like Alexander-Arnold, Ashley Young and Fabian Delph, who can all play in defence and midfield, is a feature of Southgate’s squad, and the manager has tinkered with 4-3-3, 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 formations.
Central midfield seems light on experience and cover — Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier are the only real mainstays — but Southgate is confident the likes of Loftus-Cheek and Jesse Lingard can fill in.
England is in Group G with Belgium, Panama and Tunisia, with the first game against Tunisia taking place on June 18th.
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley)
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham), Danny Rose (Tottenham), Ashley Young (Manchester United), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), John Stones (Manchester City), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jones (Manchester United)
Midfielders: Eric Dier (Tottenham), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)