- The unlikeliest of players was in tears at Anfield
- Alexander-Arnold’s assist has been perfumed in praise
- He received an honour previously bestowed on Maradona, Ronaldinho and Messi
“I might stretch myself to a Ribena,” remarked the marble-toned James Milner when asked if he’d celebrate Liverpool’s 11th-hour, title-race-saving victory at Newcastle United in the Premier League on Saturday evening with a glass of red wine. “Maybe for a few the boys.”
It was paradigmatic of a 33-year-old who had seen it all and got the plain-white t-shirt to prove it, someone regarded as arguably the most unemotional man in English football, the subject of a mass-followed parody Twitter account to underscore that reputation.
Three days later, however, the oldest man on Anfield grass was blubbering like a baby, reduced to tears by one of the most extraordinary comebacks in European Cup/UEFA Champions League history.
The authors of a 2005 resurrection known singularly as ‘Istanbul’ lost the first leg of their semi-final 3-0 to Barcelona, failing to score a coveted away goal. Their fans trembled in the knowledge Lionel Messi had scored 25 goals in his last 23 appearances against English opposition.
The Reds’ own poster boy, Mo Salah – third, ahead of Messi, in The Best FIFA Men’s Player running last year – was ruled out on the eve of the showdown. It impoverished the pipe dream of a club already without Roberto Firmino, Naby Keita, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
And after flickering a fightback via Divock Origi’s early goal, Liverpool then saw Andy Robertson forced off at half-time. The Scot’s replacement soon had that fightback flashing blindingly in Catalan eyes, with Gini Wijnaldum netting twice in 122 seconds to make it 3-3 on aggregate.
Then came, in the 79th minute, the moment that wowed the world. Origi was its marksman, but if ever a goal was indebted to its provider, it was this one.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has exceptionally, from right-back, registered 11 assists in 28 appearances in the 2018/19 Premier League, won them a corner down the right. The 20-year-old placed the ball inside the paint and, employing the ingenuity of a Longlure frogfish coaxing crustaceans into danger, casually walked a few steps away from it to unlock himself from the gaze of several uber-experienced Barcelona players.
Following a sneak-peek to check his adversaries were off-guard, he sprinted back to the ball and delivered a palatial, pinpoint cross to the unmarked Origi, who relished the gift from seven yards out to snatch Liverpool a ticket to the Madrid final.
The chess fanatic, who took on four-time and reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen in an exhibition match last year, had trapped the five-time European champions in checkmate. So majestic it was that the travelling Catalonians, whose own darlings Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi famously earned standing ovations from enemy supporters, graciously rose as one to afford Alexander-Arnold the same veneration as he lapped Anfield after the final whistle.
“It’s the vision, and then it’s the bravery,” said Michael Owen, while another former Liverpool striker, Robbie Fowler, added: “It’s absolutely genius. You can use that word plenty of times in football, but that is real genius.”
Asked if his No66’s assist was genius, Klopp responded: “100 per cent. Barcelona defend predictable things well. We had to be cheeky. I didn’t even see it! It was too quick for me. It was incredible.
“I don’t know how they did it. It’s unbelievable. This club touches you like crazy. I will never forget this for the rest of my life.
“I saw James Milner crying on the pitch after the game. James Milner! It means so much to every one of us.”
Alexander-Arnold had just turned four years old when Milner began playing Premier League football for Leeds United. Few could have imagined they’d one day be harmoniously helping Liverpool hurdle a mammoth deficit and reach the Champions League climax.
Could anybody have fantasized that it would be Mr. Undemonstrative and the eldest player on Anfield, and not and the Machiavellian hero of the hour and the youngest, that would be watering the turf with his tears?