Liverpool assistant Pepijn Lijnders: ‘Trent Alexander-Arnold is like Cafu’

Alexander-Arnold is the name on the back of both Romijn and Benjamin Lijnders’s Liverpool shirts. “That is daddy pushing, I pushed for them to do that,” their father, Pepijn Lijnders, admits. The Liverpool assistant manager’s pride in Trent Alexander-Arnold is unmistakable and understandable, having seen his former under-16s captain win every major club trophy available by the age of 23, but his belief that the right-back should be England’s first choice at the World Cup is not founded in bias. It is shaped by Lijnders’s outlook on how the game should be played.

“It is only my opinion but, if you see the game in an attacking way, he gave that position such a creative boost over the last few years. Like Cafu did in the past,” says Jürgen Klopp’s right-hand man. “For me there are no limits for Trent and if you see the game in a certain way then for sure [he should start in Qatar]. But you can see the game in many different ways.”

As Klopp writes in the foreword to Lijnders’s new book Intensity, his assistant “doesn’t make distinctions. He’s never a snob or judgemental, like some within the professional game can be.” The book was launched this week, with Lijnders’s two young sons, wife and parents in attendance, and provides an illuminating insight into Liverpool’s pursuit of the quadruple last season.

It is a diary and coaching manual in one, written with Klopp’s full support, in which the development of young talent like Alexander-Arnold clearly underpins Lijnders’s unbridled passion for the job. Gareth Southgate’s use of a player with 14 starts for England has long been a bewilderment to the Liverpool management team but Lijnders is convinced the defender will only improve this season.

“There is no limit to him,” he adds. “If you saw pre-season then the games he played he reached a new level. The way he dominated the right side offensively but also defensively was remarkable and when I see this boy it just makes me really proud. He trains in the same way he was when he was 15 – the smile, the fire.

“Our relationship is very strong and you don’t have many captains in your life as a coach hopefully, otherwise that would mean you work in many different clubs and that is not a good sign. The bond between the manager and the captain will never pass. I see a boy who grew, who is still growing and I really believe that life doesn’t have limits. You have to stay creative, stay unpredictable. Trent sees things that the stadium doesn’t see. He sees things that I don’t see. It is for us to put him in the right position to excel.”

Lijnders says last season felt like a marathon with Liverpool competing in all 63 matches it was possible to play. With a World Cup in the middle of this one, when Liverpool will take their remaining players to a mid-season training camp in Dubai, he likens it to “a sprint, a break and then a sprint again”. He adds: “So it is important to start fast and Dubai has to create [a base] that we start fast again after the World Cup. You cannot waste time in this season. The season being interrupted is something new that we all have to deal with. The team that deals well with that and understands that will have a bigger chance.”

How Liverpool adapt to the loss of Sadio Mané and arrival of Darwin Núñez will, of course, also influence their chances of stopping Manchester City winning a hat-trick of Premier League titles. Lijnders admits that, if he could change one thing about his diary of last season, it would be “beating City in the direct confrontations”. He is convinced the Uruguay international, signed for a potential club record £85m, will enable Klopp’s team to continue challenging on all fronts.

“Top players never ruin things,” Liverpool’s assistant manager says. “There were not many strikers last year who caused a lot of issues for our centre-halves but he was definitely one of them. We are really happy with him. When we want to sign someone, we sign them for the first 11. That doesn’t mean we only have 11 players. It means you want players who you feel can make a difference in the big games.

“The question always lies in: are you fighting to become a champion or fighting for the top four? That is a big difference and people underestimate it. The team needs the consistency that we have created over the last year and the signings that you make have to have this immediate impact. That is not easy, that means there is a lot of work.

“That is why we are so happy with our scouting department and our sporting director. We really tried to sign the players who can make the difference. We feel that with our squad, and especially our front players, we are ready to compete.”