'Within two months he was a different person' - Alexander-Arnold's journey from skinny teen to Liverpool star

Alexander-Arnold Liverpool 2019
Mick Garrity worked for the Reds for 13 years across various age groups and was involved in the development of the England international full-back

The names roll off Mick Garrity’s tongue.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones. Harry Wilson and Ben Woodburn. Neco Williams and Adam Lewis. Rhian Brewster, Yasser Larouci, Ovie Ejaria, Herbie Kane.

“It’s a long list isn’t it?” Garrity laughs. “I could name a few more as well!”

Garrity worked with all of the above during his 13-year spell as a coach at Liverpool’s Academy in Kirkby. “I did a full cycle,” he says. “I joined in 2005, part-time, then a year later went full-time, coaching the younger boys at the pre-Academy stage.

“I ended up running that, then oversaw the 6-12 age range – which is now known as the Foundation stage. Then I did the 12-16s, then the Under-18s and eventually the U23s.

“It was great, to see some of the boys I’d had at six and seven, and then to have them again at 20, 21, it was lovely to be honest. To go on that journey with them was great.”

Garrity left Liverpool in 2018, and has since held roles with Norwegian club Molde and, most recently, with the Chinese FA. Had the coronavirus crisis not happened, Garrity and Iain Brunskill, the former assistant technical director at Kirkby, would have been providing coaching support for Li Tie, the ex-Everton midfielder, for the national team’s upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign.

As it is, Garrity is back on Merseyside, and happy to talk about his time at Liverpool. “It makes me proud, even looking from afar,” he says. “When I saw the Shrewsbury FA Cup game, for example, there were eight players in the squad that night who I’d had when they were really young.

Curtis Jones Liverpool 2020

“People like Curtis, Neco, Leighton Clarkson, Jake Cain, Morgan Boyes, Tom Hill, James Norris, I’ve known them all for years. You see them grow and develop into young men. I got a bit emotional to be honest!”

Alexander-Arnold, of course, is the jewel in the Academy’s crown. At 21, the boy from West Derby is already established not only as a Liverpool first-teamer, but as a full England international, and one of the world’s best in his position. For someone like Garrity, who first came across him as a seven-year-old, it must be remarkable to witness.

“You have to say 'wow', really,” he says. “To see what he’s done as a player already, how he’s matured and come on. All you can do is take your hat off to him. He’s been given his opportunity and he’s seized it with both hands.”

Garrity laughs as he recalls the face Alexander-Arnold would give coaches when challenged or criticised as a youngster, but credits the role of his family – and in particular mum Diane – in his development.

“As a coach you are educating the parents as much as anything,” he says. “You have to challenge players and push them, and often the ones that you see the real potential in, they’re the ones that you have to push hardest.

"You’re doing it to help them, to prepare them. You’re building their resilience, finding out what they can and can’t take. Diane understood that, even if maybe Trent didn’t!”

Garrity remembers the penny dropping with Alexander-Arnold after he had been called up to train with Jurgen Klopp’s senior squad at Melwood in 2016. “In the U18s he had some great performances and he moved along nicely,” he says.

“But he was probably still developing his mentality. He sometimes would find that constructive criticism tough, he saw it as a negative when it wasn't. It was our job as coaches to help him understand that, and he did to be fair to him.

“He went up to Melwood then came back to the 23s and played a game and you could just see that something had changed. It was his body language and demeanour. He just looked a lot more grown up, and from then on he just didn’t seem to let errors or mistakes get to him as much.

“I remember speaking to him and saying ‘Trent, in the space of two months, you look a different person, never mind a different player!’

“Being around Jurgen and the players up at Melwood, that was what he needed. We couldn’t give him what he needed at the Academy at that time. He needed Melwood.

“I remember him and Ben Woodburn going up there at the same time, and the manager liked both of them. It was the best thing that could have happened to the pair of them, because it gave them that belief that they could actually be a player for the club.

“Trent came back, and it was when you first started seeing him and thinking ‘he looks like a Premier League player.’”

Mick Garrity Trent Alexander-Arnold GFX

Alexander-Arnold made his senior debut for Liverpool in October 2016, and impressed on his first Premier League start at Old Trafford a couple of months later. Still, it took a long-term injury to Nathaniel Clyne to give him a prolonged run in the side. Luck, Garrity points out, is a big factor in a young player’s development.

“You need it,” he says. “You need things to fall into place, opportunities to come up at the right moment. And when they do, you need to take those opportunities. Maybe if Clyne had been fit, Trent would have played more between the first team and the 23s. What happened was the manager believed in him, put him in the team and he hasn’t looked back.”

Garrity is also watching the rise of another young Scouser, Jones, with interest. “I used to pick him up and drop him off for training,” he says. “I’ve seen him grow.

“He’s another who needed that environment at Melwood. He was ready for that, definitely. He is super talented. People sometimes had this perception that he only plays with the ball, but he always worked for the team. The thing with Curtis was trying to hold him back, because he has unbelievable confidence.

“I always stuck up for him when people questioned that. He’s not arrogant, he just believes in his own ability. And if he doesn’t, then who else is going to?

“It won’t be his ability that stops him. Maybe he’s needed to be a bit more patient, and I know that staff have worked very hard with him on that. He keeps you on your toes as a coach, because he needs to be challenged.

“But what a talent, and I’m sure when his chance comes he’ll take it. He already has, hasn’t he?”

The conversation moves on to Harry Wilson, on loan and impressing with Bournemouth, and to Ben Woodburn, whose spell at Oxford United was ruined by injury.

“Ben has had some real bad luck,” Garrity says. “I’ve known him and his family really well since he was a baby really. He’s such a talented boy. I’d be wrong to say he’s lost his way, but he’s been unfortunate with injuries and things not working out as he expected.

“But someone like him, a great kid with a great work ethic and attitude, he’ll knuckle down and kick on. He’ll take things from this. He’s too good a player to keep down. He’s got loads of talent.”

Harry Wilson Bournemouth 2019-20

He adds: “Loans are never a bad experience, as long as you take the right things from them. Harry, for example, he went to Crewe [in 2016] and he came back with his tail between his legs, to be honest. He couldn’t quite understand why he hadn’t played, and he was pretty upset about it.

“We sat down with him and had a conversation, and we were open and honest with him. We told him what needed to happen, and where he could get to. He went away and came back like a new man in pre-season. He was like a man possessed, it was like he was going to show everybody what he was capable of.

“He’s really kicked on, but I think Crewe made him, it gave him that kick up the backside that he needed at that time. It built up a resilience in him.

“He had this new experience, he wasn’t getting on the pitch or he was getting taken off early. It was new to him, but he realised that he needed to do this, this and this to make sure that didn’t happen again. That’s what the really good players do.”

To finish, Garrity recalls a conversation with John W Henry, Liverpool’s principal owner. “He said he really has that faith in developing and nurturing young players,” he says. "He said we could save the club lots of money hopefully. To us as coaches, that was music to our ears.

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“If there’s no relationship between the [first team and academy], then it can become difficult. I saw it happen at the club in the past, where players and coaches felt they weren’t getting a fair go, because maybe the relationship wasn’t there.

“And if that’s the case, then it is the players who suffer. Thankfully that isn’t the case now. The bridge is there.

“For the young players, they have to be inspired by the likes of Trent and Curtis. They have to be ready and prepared for when that call might come.”