Gary Neville should know times have changed as Trent Alexander-Arnold shows him up

Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville.
-Credit: (Image: ITV Football/X)

“No-one wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville!”

It has been over 10 years since Jamie Carragher’s famous putdown of his old Manchester United adversary when taking his first steps into punditry on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football.

“You’re two things as a full-back,” he declared. “You’re either a failed winger or a failed centre-back.

READ MORE: Luis Diaz has just dropped biggest hint yet to Liverpool over where his future lies

READ MORE: Arne Slot has just given the game away about FSG's quiet transfer plan at Liverpool

“You were a centre-back, weren’t you?” he then asked to a laughing Neville. “No-one wants to be a full-back as a kid. No-one grows up and wants to be a Gary Neville!”

It was September 2013 when Carragher said it, just months after retiring. While he was playing at full-back when Liverpool won the treble in 2001, under Rafa Benitez he went on to establish himself in his favoured centre-back role and become one of Reds’ greatest defenders of the Premier League era.

In contrast, as Carragher pointed out, Neville started his Manchester United career as a centre-back before ‘failing’ and being pushed to right-back. Sir Alex Ferguson would later tease how the Red Devils legend hadn’t been tall enough to play centrally.

While Neville was the butt of such jokes, he has now made a similar point himself when writing off Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold ability to play in midfield.

In truth, since Carragher’s 2013 quip both Alexander-Arnold and Reds team-mate Andy Robertson have re-written the rule book when it comes to how full-backs are perceived.

Boasting 30 goals and 144 assists between them during their Anfield careers, winning every major honour along the way, they have ensured that the position is no longer as unglamorous as it once was.

Yet Liverpool have spent the last 18 months utilising Alexander-Arnold as an inverted full-back in an attempt to get him on the ball in the middle of the park, along with occasionally fielding him purely in midfield.

With incoming Reds head coach Arne Slot having previously played with an inverted full-back and double pivot midfield at Feyenoord, it will be curious to see how he intends to use the Liverpool vice-captain. Yet such a quandary is for another day, with the 25-year-old’s utilisation for England during Euro 2024 an ongoing talking point.

Regarded as predominantly a midfielder by Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate over the past year, Alexander-Arnold started in the engine-room in England’s opening victory over Serbia and retained the berth against Denmark, following 12 months of hard work behind the scenes.

“I felt prepared through the conversations and the work we've done throughout the week,” he said about the win over Serbia. “It may seem brand new, but it's not.

“Me, the manager and Steve Holland, we've been working very hard on this role for the past year so a lot of preparation has gone into it, a lot of information, learning and a lot of analysing has gone into it.”

Alexander-Arnold’s display has resulted in plenty of scrutiny and debate, with an ever-growing list of pundits weighing in on the 25-year-old’s position. Unsurprisingly, they are not in universal agreement.

Neville is one of the leading voices disputing Alexander-Arnold’s utilisation as a midfielder - in disagreement with Carragher.

And he recently channelled the Reds legend’s put down, claiming if Alexander-Arnold was good enough to be a midfielder then he wouldn’t have spent most of his career at right-back.

“What Jurgen Klopp's done at Liverpool is find a way to get him into midfield from right back,” Neville said on ITV. “Look there’s no doubt if you’re good enough to play in midfield all the time, you would play in midfield.

“The reason you were right back is because basically you’ve been shoved back there from being either a wide player or a midfield player at some point in your life and you’ve not been good enough.

“I was the same as the 14-year-old or 15-year-old, I was a midfield player, we all were and then we got pushed back.

“So where you saw Trent struggle a couple of times there was when it was tight and with his back to play. To receive the ball with back to play is the hardest thing in football in midfield.

“We don't do it well as full-backs, not even Trent, who's unbelievable on the ball. He's uncomfortable in that position.”

Given the fact that Alexander-Arnold is hailed as one of England’s most naturally gifted players, such a backwards claim from the Red Devils legend will inevitably prompt scratched heads and raised eyebrows back on Merseyside. While lesser players were shoved at full-back in Neville’s day, it was a very different story when the Scouser burst through Liverpool’s academy and into the first team.

Yet the debate is set to rage on throughout the European Championships as the biggest talking point regarding Southgate’s team selections. All Alexander-Arnold can do in the meantime is do his talking out on the pitch.

England have been unable to make the most of his talent throughout his international career so far, but it’s a different story at Liverpool where a fluid side is built to help get the best out of him.

Regardless of what happens in Germany, that won’t change when he returns to the Reds and links up with Slot for the first time. Be it as a defender, midfielder or hybrid, his importance at Anfield is obvious.

If England fail to get the best out of him, that’s their problem. It’s easy to beat the full-back with a stick and question his role, but if you really think he’s ‘not good enough’ and that's why made his name as a right-back, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention.

No-one wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville. But every young, Scouse Liverpool supporter grows up dreaming of being Trent Alexander-Arnold.