Trent Aexander-Arnold is arguably the best attacking fullback in football and a creative force who by the numbers has been on par with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne for a few years now. He’s the sort of player almost any manager would build a side around.
For England, though, he can hardly get off the bench, making his first appearance of the 2022 World Cup last night as a second substitute half after England were already two goals clear against Wales and with their ticket punched to the knockout rounds.
Some will say that his defensive game, which while far from poor is arguably merely average for a regular starter for a Premier League and Champions League winning club side, is the reason why. Brazil legend Cafu, though, isn’t a big fan of that argument.
“I don’t understand why,” Cafu said of England manager Gareth Southgate’s continued snubbing of Alexander-Arnold. “He’s the full package. He has quality, dribbling skills, and pace. But it’s always the same thing. They say you don’t defend and sit you.
“They used to do the same to me and Roberto Carlos, but I’d argue we managed to win something anyway. Unfortunately, many fullbacks these days are too robotic. They get the ball, pass it, and run. I don’t see movement without the ball or one-two passes.”
Cafu’s at times criticised talents helped Brazil to win the 1994 and 2002 World Cups as well as to win the Copa America in 1997 and 1999. Carlos won the latter three tournaments along with him, and the attack-minded duo also lifted the Confederations Cup in 1997.
Neither Cafu nor Carlos were the first attacking fullbacks to be criticised for at times being caught up the pitch and seemingly having abdicated their defensive duties, just as Trent Alexander-Arnold today won’t be the last such player criticised for that, either.
Usually, such exceptional talents get to work with managers who appreciate their skills and see their contributions as a net positive—though at the moment, Alexander-Arnold doesn’t have that with England, who next face Senegal in the Round of 16 on Sunday.