Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold admits he has a difficult balancing act in showing Cristiano Ronaldo enough respect, but not too much that he is taken advantage of.
The 19-year-old has been on an upward curve since making his first-team debut in a League Cup tie in October 2016 which has ultimately led him to a senior England call-up for this summer’s World Cup.
But first he has a Champions League final against Real Madrid to play in Kiev on Saturday and a meeting with the competition’s leading scorer both this season and of all-time.
Alexander-Arnold excelled against Professional Footballers’ Association Young Player of the Year Leroy Sane, three years his senior, in their quarterfinal clash with Manchester City, but the Liverpool academy graduate knows the 33-year-old Ronaldo poses a greater threat.
“Most opponents aren’t Ronaldo! You have to show him respect but not too much, because that’s when you get taken advantage of,” said the right-back. “You have a job to do and whoever I am up against I will try to come out on top like I always try.
“Obviously, the right preparation for these kind of tests is training against world-class players like Mo [double Player of the Year and Premier League Golden Boot winner Mohamed Salah]. All the team push each other every single day, and every day we see an improvement in all of us.
“We’ve come a long way this season and hopefully at the weekend we can top it off.”
Manager Jurgen Klopp’s influence has been a huge part of Alexander-Arnold’s development, from handing him his debut to helping him become a mainstay of the first team.
The youngster acknowledges how much the belief the German, to whom Gareth Southgate entrusted breaking the news of his England call-up, has helped.
“I said ‘thank you’ to the boss [when he gave him the World Cup news] because without him I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Alexander-Arnold added. “The faith and trust he has in me is why I’ve played so much and been able to develop. The way he treats me in training and the way he goes about it with the young players is unbelievable.
“He really is a father figure to us all. We try to do what he says and hopefully I can make him proud on Saturday.”
He may not have a vast amount of experience but Alexander-Arnold believes he has learned plenty in his short time in and around the first team, even going back to his unconvincing debut for the under-23s against Manchester City at Anfield.
“It was one of the first times I’d played right-back. I hadn’t played there too often,” he recalled. “I was up against an unbelievable team and an unbelievable player in Brandon Barker.
“That’s probably one of the hardest games I’ve had. It brings back bad memories for me, but it’s those type of games that help you learn.
“They are the ones that you learn from the most. It’s not the good ones, it’s the bad ones. You make mistakes that you want to learn from, that you don’t want to happen again, and that’s what I try to do.
“I’ve worked hard for two years, and even longer than that, to get to this point and a lot more hard work will go into keep developing and hopefully keep getting better.”