Inseparable Trent Alexander-Arnold friend quits Liverpool with message for signings | soccer4u
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Inseparable Trent Alexander-Arnold friend quits Liverpool with message for signings



Bennett Woodburn and Trent Alexander Although Arnold’s careers have progressed very differently since they both signed their first professional contracts, the former has been given a second shot.

Inseparable Trent Alexander-Arnold friend quits Liverpool with message for signings

The message was understandably straightforward, yet the intensity of the passion it expressed could only be inferred.

As word spread last week that Ben Woodburn, a friend and teammate from their first days at the club, had left Liverpool, Trent Alexander-Arnold took to social media to post five words and a heart emoji. It said, “My brother what a journey,” making reference to the pair’s relationship. The correct term to use is “journey,” considering Woodburn’s harrowing, roller-coaster experience since enrolling in the club’s program at the age of seven.

He and Alexander-Arnold, who was a year younger than him, were the two standouts of Liverpool’s junior system as they developed from such a young age all the way to the periphery of the first team. However, it serves as a cautionary story about the whims of football as well as the frailty of young talent, given the two went through a lot of experiences together before their careers split in such a spectacular and devastating way.

Inseparable Trent Alexander-Arnold friend quits Liverpool with message for signings

And it sends a message that success is never guaranteed at that age as Liverpool lines up a new generation of youthful talent, adding four incredibly promising teens to the team in the past few months.

Carvalho, who is only 19 years old, cost £7 million, while Ramsey, who is 18 years old, cost a comparable sum. Ben Doak, 16, joined Celtic for a compensation fee, and Trent Kone-Doherty, who turned 16 last week and joined Liverpool on Monday, were both signed from the League of Ireland. Ben Doak joined Celtic and joined the team below them. Kone-Doherty, like the others, departs from Derry City with a strong reputation after being identified even before he reached his adolescence as a potential star. However, Woodburn shared the same talent and development path.

On the day Wales international Woodburn signed his first professional contract in November 2016, Alexander-Arnold also penned a new, improved professional deal which cemented the status of both as the next generation for Liverpool. By then, Woodburn had been fast-tracked into the ‘futures group’ at the academy, who trained weekly with coach Pep Lijnders, and were hand-picked for stardom, and had already scored for the first team in a pre-season game. Days later, he made his senior debut in a win over Sunderland.

Inseparable Trent Alexander-Arnold friend quits Liverpool with message for signings

His debut came a month after his friend Alexander-Arnold, but given it was a Premier League game, it meant he made his league debut first…with the England full back appearing a month later in that competition. It meant Woodburn was the club’s third youngest debutant of all time at the age of 17 years and 42 days, and the second youngest in the Premier League.

Happier times: Woodburn and Alexander-Arnold

But more, much more was to follow with a moment of history. Three days later, with Alexander-Arnold in the starting line up, he came off the bench against Leeds in the EFL Cup, and scored to become the youngest Liverpool goalscorer of all time, at 17 years and 45 days.

Inseparable Trent Alexander-Arnold friend quits Liverpool with message for signings

There is a famous picture of the two embracing at the end with huge smiles lighting up the Anfield night, both seemingly assured of a huge future at the famous old stadium. Woodburn went on to make nine appearances that season – only four less than his mate Trent – and was spoken about in equally glowing terms by Jurgen Klopp, who singled both out as stars of the future.

And the dramatic rise continued when, incredibly, he produced a spectacular winner on his full international debut for Wales, with a ferocious long range effort in a World Cup qualifier against Austria, to make him the second youngest goalscorer in Wales, behind only Gareth Bale.

Three days later, he created another goal for Wales as he almost single-handedly revived their World Cup chances, appropriately, given the world seemingly was at his feet. Woodburn beat Alexander-Arnold to another first with his full international debut coming a full 10 months before his friend…but that the moment where their paths diverged on sadly different trajectories.

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The young forward made five appearances for his country that season, but just two for Liverpool, while his sidekick made 35 appearances and started in the Champions League final against Real Madrid. Woodburn was in the squad for that final, but didn’t make the matchday squad, and the same happened a year later, when he again didn’t make the bench, where his pal lifted the trophy.

The two were still inseparable on the bus ride around the city in 2019 after beating Spurs, but by then, their stories had taken very different turns. After such limited opportunities in the previous season, Klopp decided to send the younger Woodburn out on loan at Sheffield United, as they challenged for the Championship title that season.

Placed in a team that played a very different way to Liverpool, it didn’t work out, with the winger playing just eight games, with only two starts, and sent back early, hence his inclusion in the Champions League squad.

That spell in Sheffield under Chris Wilder seemed to affect his development badly, with an ankle injury impacting his chances. It was an ominous portent of things to come…and a frightening example of how luck can play such a big part in the development of the brightest young stars.

He and Alexander-Arnold were considered on the same level, but where the full back’s star continued to rise as he made the bench in the World Cup semi final with England, Woodburn crashed down to earth with a sickening thud. His next loan was the right move, to an Oxford side managed by Karl Robinson, who had been an academy coach at Liverpool during Woodburn’s formative years there. And his start was as exciting as his Anfield lift off.

Woodburn’s Liverpool success was short lived (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

But after dazzling in his early weeks, a sickening challenge against Accrington Stanley broke his foot…and then, when he was due to return after going back to Liverpool for treatment and rehab, he broke the other foot. Robinson explained the problem was caused by a “very peculiar way he loads his weight on the outside of his feet.” By the time it was sorted, Oxford had made the play offs, and even though he started the semi final, it was to be his last for the club.

Another loan spell at Blackpool, under another former Liverpool coach Neil Critchley, was hampered by injury and a bout of Covid, and suddenly, his career was stalled. A loan at Hearts didn’t help. Robinson, who rates the youngster’s talent highly still, can only sympathise.

“He didn’t play a lot of senior games because of quite a few things out of his control,” the Oxford manager explained. “They give you self doubt, and stop you playing with freedom. I think when it all comes so early, then you can feel under pressure, and sometimes you try to be someone you are not to cope with the demands.

“I think the problem with Ben is, when was supposed to find who he was, he had those injuries, and lost his way a little. But the talent is still there. It’s hard to come into the game at the highest level, the pressure, the expectation is so high at a club like Liverpool. Steve Heighway would always say you have to be ready for those pressures and burdens, but not everyone can be. Sometimes it is out of your control.”

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Woodburn departed Liverpool on July 1, 2022, at the end of the five year contract he signed as an 18 year old in 2018. Precisely a year earlier, Alexander-Arnold had signed a huge contract, to keep him at the club until 2025. Another will surely follow soon.

With Woodburn now agreeing a one year contract at Preston, it is perhaps not harsh to say his career now hangs in the balance. It is a chance to show the talent which wowed Anfield, and wowed Wales. But there will be few further opportunities.

It has been a hell of a journey for both Liverpool players in very different ways for both players, since they joined the club at the age of six and seven respectively, which will no doubt make both reflect sadly. And those four teenagers who have joined Liverpool in the past few months with the same hopes and dreams, will do well to reflect carefully on the story too.

Woodburn is still only 22, Alexander-Arnold 23. There is a chance their careers can cross once more, but it will take rather better luck than Ben has tasted in the last five years.

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