Whether it’s re-inventing the right back role, winning every major trophy he’s ever wanted to grasp with his boyhood club, or becoming a modern footballing icon, Trent Alexander-Arnold is currently living every kid’s dream.
But for the majority of players growing up wanting to play the game professionally, those sorts of dreams will never become reality. Football might be regarded as “the people’s game” and accessible to millions around the world. The dedication it requires to get to the top of the game is something only the very, very few can hope for – with five out of six players in the UK released or dropped by the age of 21, according to the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).
Trent isn’t only one of the game’s success stories, but one of the most one of the most uniquely gifted players English football has ever produced. We’re speaking to him today from Liverpool’s AXA Academy. Just as Trent grew up playing football at Liverpool’s old training ground in Melwood, determined to become the next Steven Gerrard, today, Liverpool’s vice captain is now brushing shoulders with young players on a mission to become the next Trent Alexander-Arnold.
As both a player and person, Trent has always wanted to help others. But having only just become the defender with the most assists in Premier League history, Trent’s next venture is his greatest display of selflessness and leadership to date.
Enter The After Academy: a PFA-backed initiative providing career opportunities for former academy players across the UK. The After Academy is looking to propel players who have been let go in the right direction – and provide a pathway out of the area that cuts through the noise and pitfalls some ex-players fall into.
The After Academy will provide a support network core focus on getting ex-academy players from all clubs into sports-related careers. Trent’s new initiative will work in collaboration with The PFA, while also partnering with brands such as Red Bull, Under Armour, and Therabody, to offer opportunities, jobs, work placements, and internships across various departments.
Unsurprisingly from a man who sees football several steps ahead of everyone else in the world, Trent is composed and calculated when reflecting on his rise and his next chapter with Hypebeast. While still in the midst of an incredible career, spending his time serving up goals for his teammates en route to unprecedented glory, it’s clear Trent has never forgotten those less fortunate on his journey, and feels a deep connection to those who have struggled with the shame of not making it.
While looking out across the pitches where a new host of players are fighting for their lives to become the next big thing out of Liverpool’s academy, Hypebeast caught up with Trent Alexander-Arnold to learn more about his work supporting ex-academy players, being a role model for his community, and his desire to build a legacy beyond the medals.
Hypebeast: Talk to us about your motivation behind setting up The After Academy – is this something you wanted to create for some time?
Trent Alexander-Arnold: It’s been in the works for a while now, and I’m excited to bring it to life. The After Academy is something I’ve been thinking about since I was young. Having been around Liverpool’s academy for so long, you see a lot of lads who get released and go on to a different team or leave football altogether. The older I got, the more I realised how much help and support they needed. I wanted to try and provide a support system for them and set something up so they had somewhere to turn to.
What is the purpose of The After Academy?
There are two reasons: support and opportunity. With The After Academy and the support of The PFA and Liverpool, we believe it’s something that’s going to provide those two things for young people in the area. We’ve built a lot of foundations and have got a lot of partners on board.
The next phase is launching an After Academy jobs board, providing opportunities and roles within different brands and businesses. And for ex-academy players and the lads who have been released, we’ll be giving them opportunities to go and be successful at places like adidas, Red Bull, Status, Huge Boss, Google, and Therabody… these sorts of brands are supportive of what we’re doing and there are a lot of other talks out there to really help us push what we want to provide.
Growing up in Liverpool’s Academy to become a certified legend at the club must be a dream come true for you — with 300 games under your belt now. What’s been your favourite part of the journey so far?
I would say making my debut. Getting to go out onto the pitch for the first time against Tottenham in the cup. That’s the moment you live for. You’ve put in so much time and spent twelve years at the Academy just for that one moment, and you know no one can take that away from you.
The experiences and moments I’ve had since have been beyond anything I could ever imagine or dream of – but that was that’s the most special moment because that’s what started it all, that your first dream, growing up. Of course, you dream of winning all the trophies and scoring goals and how are you going to celebrate, being on open top busses around the city – but it all starts with the dream of initially just playing. From that moment on, I just remember thinking, if it all ended on the day of my debut, I’d be happy – as no one could take that away from me.
“I’ve always been a big dreamer. I’ve seen myself being able to achieve amazing things – and I was incredibly driven to make those things happen.”
Dream scenarios aren’t possible for most players growing up playing the game. How much of an impact did it have on you seeing your peers and friends not make the cut while you were growing up and the issues they faced once being released?
It made a massive impact. These are the lads I’d spent my life growing up with, I spent so much time with them – and the bonds I have with them didn’t just go away. You get used to being around them and creating amazing memories on this journey… and then all of a sudden, it’s just not there for them anymore.
Seeing their careers cut short, it’s really difficult to experience. So that was a big incentive for me to create something that will help these lads.
I know that you were playing football all the time from age six upwards. Is your current stature and success something you’ve manifested since you were very young?
I’ve always been a big dreamer. I’ve always seen myself being able to achieve amazing things – and I was incredibly driven to make those things happen. I think it was a good blend of having that confidence in myself and the ability to go on and do it. The willingness to work hard and the discipline and the sacrifice I was willing to put in, mixed with the talent that I had was the recipe for success, for me.
I was talking to a taxi driver on the way up and he was saying how important initiatives like this will be for the local community, and players that have been let go that can fall by the wayside. How much does being a role model for your community mean to you?
It’s massive for me. I’ve always felt a responsibility to give back, and I’ve been brought up to try and be as helpful to the community and the city that I’m a part of. For my family and my parents, it was always about giving back and helping people who are less fortunate and in difficult positions and situations. So I think understanding my profile and the platform that I have to be able to help change, be a role model and inspire others to make the world a better place also, motivates me.
I want to be a role model and inspiration for the next generation to look up to – not just on the pitch, but for all the things I do off it. I want to be remembered for how I help the community, help the city, and help young people in the area get opportunities to become something.
Liverpool’s Academy is arguably the strongest it’s been in quite some time, with so many players breaking through and getting their chance in the first team. What do you put that recent string of success down to?
I was talking to Curtis about this the other day, funnily enough. We were talking about how different when we were first coming up, and how you had to drive over from Melwood. Now with the synergy (at The AXA) it just means it’s more accessible for players. They can see us lads walking around the building, so by the time they are training with us or playing with us, they’re more familiar as they’ve seen us around the building for a year or two. As you’re still in the same environment – you feel like you’re building that connection and bonding together.
“I want to be a role model and inspiration for the next generation to look up to – not just on the pitch, but for all the things I do off it.”
You are a player who is fiercely independent with his game on the pitch – but you’ve also been doing some talking off it. You’re a man with plenty of other interests outside the game itself – particularly in the world of fashion lately. You got to experience Milan Fashion Week earlier this year – is fashion something you’ve got more and more into throughout your career?
I love fashion, I love the creativity and the expression that comes with that world. And just to see it up close and personal and just that that freedom that it gives you something that I think is is incredible, and it’s something that is read the clothes and the feelings that it brings to it and our largest expressions. The design and making all happen that goes on behind the scenes that you don’t see in the endless hours that people don’t necessarily see and then they see the results and you appreciate that but it’s all about the craftsmanship behind the scenes and the dedication that goes on there for it all to happen.
You’re part of a generation of ballers who are dressing well – unlike some of your Liverpool predecessors. Do the likes of Curtis and Virg help inspire you to dress better on a day-to-day basis?
I wouldn’t say on a day-to-day basis, but there’s definitely a culture now where we know that the cameras are gonna be on us that it’s bigger if it’s right because it’s we’re having a little battle at the minute – it’s an unspoken competition in the squad. You’ll get the heads up the day before that there will be arrival pics, so you know you’ve got to get the fit right. It’s now a case of “let’s see what you can do”, do your best type of thing, and be ready to step correct.
I like that it’s catching on and a lot of the lads are really buying into it. I think the culture at the club is good now – I think it’s something Virgil has helped build here. After all the changes that we’ve had within the squad, the players who left and the players we brought in, it feels a lot younger. From my generation down, the vibes are now more relaxed, less old-fashioned – and as long as they perform on the pitch, the lads can do what they want when it comes to expressing themselves, without feeling judged. It’s good to be a part of.
You’re setting the levels, for the rest of the lads, though?
[Laughs] Yeah, I had to go to Milan, get the fits on properly and let them know that I’m still in the game!
Finally, what advice would you give to a younger Trent Alexander-Arnold?
It’s said a lot, but I think I’d say, just believe in yourself. I think no matter how good you are at anything if you don’t believe in yourself, then you’ll never achieve it. Getting through the battles, tough times, and everything that gets thrown at you – having that self-belief to go and do it will give you at least half a chance to succeed.