Speaking on commentary duty with Martin Tyler when England faced Switzerland in the Nations League 3rd place play-off, Gary Neville didn’t hesitate to make a bold statement on one of England’s best performers against the Swiss.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was making just his sixth appearance for the Three Lions senior team on the day, was by far and away England’s Man of the Match.
The 20-year-old created a game-high seven chances alone, more than anyone else on the pitch, and should’ve had a number of assists to his name but for Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling’s wasteful finishing.
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His fine deliveries and near-perfect technique led to Neville and Tyler comparing the Liverpool academy graduate to David Beckham, perhaps one of the greatest crossers the game has ever seen.
The English media have long been guilty of over-hyping the country’s young stars, placing an enormous amount of pressure on their shoulders before they have even settled into life as a professional footballer.
Yes, whilst Alexander-Arnold has already played at a World Cup and appeared in two Champions League finals, likening him to one of the nation’s greatest ever players at the age of just 20 seems rather hyperbolic.
It’s also a misguided comparison considering how much the game has changed since Beckham’s heyday.
And if anyone shouldn’t be making such rash comparisons, it’s Neville. The Sky Sports pundit literally has all the knowledge about the situation that he possibly could need.
Firstly, he spent the entirety of his 19-year career playing at right-back, emerging onto the scene as an impressive youngster at Manchester United, just as Alexander-Arnold has done at Liverpool. He should know better than anyone not to heap weighty comparisons on the Scouser’s young shoulders.
Trent Alexander Arnold's passing vs Switzerland pic.twitter.com/EZTmvak99m
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And he should also know how significantly the right-back position has changed since he was playing. Back then, wingers were out-and-out touchline huggers who didn’t need, or allow for, a full-back to overlap them, meaning that the role was much more defensive minded with little attacking quality needed.
Nowadays, the role is arguably one of the most important on the pitch and means you must get up and down the flank. Deliveries into the box are important because full-backs mostly provide the width, but they usually come from a much deeper position and often with far more space than Beckham ever enjoyed.
The Man United icon’s crossing, more often than not, came under much greater pressure from defenders. So if the comparison proves anything at all, it’s probably that Beckham would be a right-back in this day and age.
Perhaps more importantly, Neville played with Beckham for a number of years and saw just how incredible the midfielder’s technical skills were in person, and also must’ve seen just how hard he worked on perfecting his talents on a daily basis.
Beckham provided that level of quality crossing for over ten years at Man United, and over 20 years throughout his whole career; Alexander-Arnold has only come to the end of his second full season as a senior footballer, and hasn’t been consistent in both defensive and offensive aspects of his game in that time either. Yes, there was a Beckham-esque aspect to Alexander-Arnold’s performance, but is it really right – is it really fair – to paint him with that brush just six games into his England career?
As someone who has worked with young players within the England setup before, he should be fully aware that such premature comparisons aren’t healthy. Let Alexander-Arnold make his own name without feeling the need to live up to one of the greats.