“In the past we’ve always been a bit nervous about comparing young players with the greats in the game but, in the last ten minutes, you’re a mixture of Steven Gerrard, Kevin De Bruyne and David Beckham…”
This was the neatly-toned introductory line to a question by one journalist during an England press conference with the Liverpool man on Wednesday. Jamie Carragher’s recent comparison with the Belgian, Danny Murphy’s with the former Manchester United man and the player’s own brief account of modelling elements of his game off the Reds’ ex-skipper were the sources of the statement.
The very fact this particular tangent was being explored two days into his 22nd year said an awful lot. Yet perhaps it said even more that, while ‘tongue-in-cheek’ could be an appropriate description of it, ‘unreasonable’ couldn’t. Certain technical parallels between Trent and the esteemed company above feel as though they even border on the obvious.
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However, Trent’s career is his and his only, of course. Comparisons are often a media measure of sorts, yet their use rarely stretches far beyond that. “We’ve always been a bit nervous about comparing young players with the greats in the game,” is a modifier that says as much.
The path the Liverpool No.66 has trodden in the little over two years since becoming a first-team regular doesn’t really need recounting or describing. It’s been eye-catching to say the least. But what his development and progress so far could set-up in the years to come is a very interesting prospect indeed.
Just as his attributes open up on-pitch avenues few other players could utilise, they also look capable of doing that in a wider career-sense. And that makes open-mindedness – rather than long-term pigeon-holing – all the more beneficial.
Put simply and factually, he is a midfielder converted into a right-back. You can see why he rose through the ranks in a central berth. And, for virtually the same reasons, you can see why he underwent a change of role. Just as the immense ball-striking and box-to-box qualities that drew comparisons with the aforementioned triumvirate are ready made for the centre of the park, they are potentially game-changing at right-back.
And so that has proved. From the team-standpoint, penetrative ground passes, press-breaking flighted ones, inch-perfect diagonal switches and angled, back-line destroying early crosses are highly desirable strings to the bow to possess. Trent has been providing them with increasing regularity over the last 26 months or so. Indeed, it has now been noted in a number of circles how he has arguably expanded the perception of what it means to be an attacking full-back.
From a personal perspective, a right-sided berth has offered the man now only three games away from a century of appearances a little more time and space to display his range of attributes than would have been likely in central-midfield. Needless to say, he’s also going to cross notably more from right-back.
Beyond the technical intricacies, he also came into the first-team set-up with the intention of challenging for the right-back role simply for the logical reason that there was less of a crowd to get through. He only really had Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez for company as options when he began noticeably knocking on the door in 2016/17. And he was then able to make the step-up that bit more smoothly when Clyne’s unfortunate injury lay-off from summer 2017 to spring 2018 opened it.
Carragher’s comparison with De Bruyne was paired with the thought process that he may one day move back into the kind of role that he once thrived in at the Kirkby Academy and that the Belgian now bosses for Manchester City. We already know and can already see why that could be beneficial.
The potential of having him on the ball more often and in different areas is enticing to say the least. But whether ‘more often’ and ‘different’ are synonyms for ‘better’ in this scenario is questionable. He’d likely have less time on the ball, and potentially be unable to open-up the kind of angles being closer to the touchline allows.
It’s also worth considering that the Reds’ highly productive and balanced 4-3-3 system doesn’t always cater for immense levels of midfield creativity. The centre is ‘closed’ at times, as Jürgen Klopp commented recently, with the channels consciously opened up – primarily for the benefit of Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
Manchester City’s does, meanwhile, with wingers often stretching the play as opposed to full-backs, allowing the likes of De Bruyne, David Silva and company to advance high and fully exploit the half-spaces. One of the main reasons we so often see those devilish early De Bruyne deliveries.
That’s not to say Trent couldn’t change that for Liverpool, with his technical skill-set arguably the widest of anyone in the side. But one thought could be that a role as the right-sided deep-lying midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 system may utilise his talents more effectively.
He could work from slightly deeper, potentially allowing him more time to look-up and break lines with his passing, while he could more naturally support any right-back as they advance and have the ball cut back to him to cross from the kind of position a certain other Academy graduate loved to deliver from until recently.
The key here is that this is a 21-year-old who has earned the right to keep all of these options open. Constructive – if at times slightly harsh – criticism of his defensive positioning looks to be something that is being gradually improved and balanced to a greater extent.
And his understanding of the game at full-back and more widely is only being enhanced further as he builds up more experiences at Premier League, Champions League and international level, meaning any changes are likely to be smoother.
That all reflects the superb temperament that Gary Neville noted as one of the first things he noticed about him. It’s why you virtually never see him make a rash challenge, take undue rather than measured risks, or let the magnitude of what he and his team is doing get on top of him.
And that’s just another reason why we should be in no rush to see him become one thing or another. He has a bit of everything. He can be useful – and set his own benchmarks – virtually everywhere.