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Trent Alexander-Arnold should end England career - Alan Hansen and Joel Matip have given blueprint

Liverpool's English defender #66 Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Fulham and Liverpool at Craven Cottage in London on April 21, 2024.
-Credit: (Image: BENJAMIN CREMEL/AFP via Getty Images)


Liverpool has been blessed with some incredible defenders over the years. Trent Alexander-Arnold already belongs in the pantheon of greats, but he could potentially elevate that status still further by taking a leaf out of his predecessors' book.

At first glance, Alexander-Arnold looks like the odd one out in a trio with Alan Hansen and Joel Matip. Both center-halves, those two drew plaudits generations apart at Anfield for their willingness to play out from the heart of the defense.

By contrast, Alexander-Arnold is a marauding right-back, sometimes turned midfielder. The most obvious point of reference is the double act he has formed with Andy Robertson, with the pair trading the Premier League assists record for a defender back and forth over the years.

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However, he could join an unusual club alongside Hansen and Matip by making a big decision over his England future. Only taken to a major tournament as a starter for the first time at Euro 2024, having amassed an underwhelming 25 caps prior to that, Alexander-Arnold has been repeatedly mismanaged in the national setup.

Even when given this 'chance' at the latest Euros, Southgate has chosen to deploy him in a broadly unfamiliar position, placing on him tactical demands that were always likely to inhibit his best qualities. A go-to first substitution, Alexander-Arnold has seen himself become an England scapegoat.

That comes after years of inexplicable snubs. How did England possibly justify more or less ignoring Alexander-Arnold from 2018-2020, when he posted 12 and then 13 Premier League assists from right-back in consecutive seasons?

Despite everything, Alexander-Arnold has shown a huge amount of patience with his country. In 2023, he gushed over the national team (via F365):

“It has always been an honor and a pleasure to come away with England and play games for your country," he said. "To represent my country is the biggest honor any player can have, it truly is.”

But there comes a point when enough is enough. Alexander-Arnold should turn his back on England.

In recent times, Matip is the primary Liverpool example of rejecting national call-ups. His Cameroon career spanned just five years and 27 appearances, and the man who should have been one of the country's all-time greats instead built his legacy at club level.

"I tried to play and represent my country, do my best and achieve something but all the surrounding things were not the best," Matip told The Times in 2017.

"I always tried it and tried it. I spoke to the old coach a lot and he always tried to change some things. I said, 'OK, I will try it again.'

"I tried it again and again and, at one moment, you have to say it is enough. You cannot keep saying, 'Maybe next time it will get better, it will get better."

Joel Matip of Liverpool showing his appreciation to the fans at the end of the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on May 19, 2024 in Liverpool, England.
Joel Matip left Liverpool as a legend, with the adulation he never got for Cameroon. -Credit:Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Matip insisted that African football cannot be compared to European standards. Even so, while the issues Alexander-Arnold has encountered with England have no doubt been very different, some of these remarks would surely resonate.

He has tried, time and time again. He has willingly embraced the midfield idea, even though he has long been the most deserving right-back. And all he gets is criticism, with the manager often lukewarm in defending him.

It's remarkable to think about now, but Hansen was another who never had much of an international career. He played just 26 times for Scotland, one fewer cap than Matip earned, and one more than Alexander-Arnold was on at the start of Euro 2024.

Unlike Matip, Hansen didn't actually retire early from international duty. But there was ongoing controversy about his commitment to the national team.

Sir Alex Ferguson took over at Scotland for the 1986 World Cup following the death of Jock Stein. He left Hansen out of the squad altogether.

"There was a controversy over the Alan Hansen thing," Ferguson later admitted. "I'll always remember Jock saying to me 'he's always withdrawing from the team'."

Having earned 20 caps by the end of 1982, he would feature just six more times before hanging up his boots at Liverpool in 1991. And perhaps Hansen's relatively bit-part role for Scotland is what allowed him to enjoy an Anfield career that featured just three trophy-less campaigns in 14 years.

There's clear precedent for the 25-cap mark being something of a point of no return. In a calendar with an ever-greater number of games, Alexander-Arnold might benefit from giving himself a break in the international windows, focusing on building an even greater legend at Liverpool.

He has done his best with England, but it's been thankless. He is adored at Liverpool, and should set his sights on going out with a trophy haul to rival Hansen's and a legacy to match the very best.