Trent Alexander-Arnold Is the Future

01/13/2023

For what it is worth, I think players like Trent Alexander-Arnold are the future of the sport. Truly position-less marvels that do not fit well in the rigid roles of most modern tactics. An entity well ahead of his time, he exists in the ethers of the game, not suited for any traditional position but remaining much too talented to leave out. The only fit for a player like this is on a squad filled with talents that match his genius and technical versatility. Unfortunately, teams like this don't exist yet, outside of maybe Pep Guardiola's current iteration of Manchester City.

In a way, soccer is behind other sports in that the modern NBA has morphed into this position-less marvel where positions have become nothing more than a tag for video games. Everyone in the current NBA has similar skill sets, from the 6-foot guard to the 7-foot giant. It has become common to see 7-footers like Victor Wembanyama dribble like James Harden. Or how Karl Anthony-Towns, a 7-foot big man, won the NBA three-point contest a year after the 6-foot-3 Steph Curry did. Meanwhile, in soccer, we still insist on having narrow-minded discourse where we evaluate a player's talent first and foremost by the position written on paper instead of their overall skill and understanding of the game.

We don't quite appreciate players like Trent yet, and when we do, it may be too late. 

We think too rigidly. I was certainly guilty of it at times. I'd watch him lose a forward at the back post and lambast him for lacking focus before it occurred to me that his primary fault may be that he is forced to play one particular position.

He doesn't have the concentration to be a defender. And his passing and creativity may rival the best midfielders in the world, but he may not have the positional awareness to play the role full-time, nor does he have the athleticism to be in the front line.

Yet, because of traditional limitations on what positions players can play, Trent is confined to a right-back role that will inevitably lead to defensive lapses and mistakes. And if you want to tell me that's a poor excuse, that all it takes is more concentration and effort, then why isn't everyone a great defender simply from an increase in effort and concentration? Why can't everyone expand their vision and recognize the passes Trent does? The mind doesn't work that way.

It is not far-fetched to consider that Trent's mental capacity to process and see passes 99% of players don't can also limit his capacity for the concentration and anticipation he needs to be an elite defender.

Ideally, for Trent, he would be on a team full of players like himself. Where they dominate play and migrate between different positions so often that the last thing to worry about is the occasional defensive mistake.

But fortunately, tactics are heading in a direction where positions matter much less, and creative genius, technical proficiency, and tactical fluidity are the only traits that matter. Think of Guardiola under Manchester City and how Cancelo is listed as a left-back but spends most of the game as a spare center midfielder. Think of Gasperini's Atalanta teams, where Robin Gosens was one of his top scorers despite playing left wing-back. Watch the display of Graham Potter's iteration of Brighton against Manchester United, where he rolled out a 3-3-3-1 formation, and his right wing-back, Pascal Gross, scored both goals in a 2-1 win. Or find clips of Frenkie De Jong playing center back at Ajax, where he had the license to go on 50-yard runs from the edge of his box to break lines and create goal-scoring chances.

Ironically the future of soccer is increasingly looking like the past, where we saw defenders like Franz Beckenbauer and Ronald Koeman drift out of position and operate as their team's primary creative outlets. 

Hopefully, by the time this reaches the mainstream, Trent Alexander Arnold will still be there to sit on his throne as king of a new generation of position-less ballers.


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