Ben White performed well for England in the warm-up matches
It is a measure of Ben White’s ability that Leeds United offered £25 million for his services last summer, and also that Brighton turned it down. Both clubs clearly recognised the defender’s potential, which had been so obvious during a brilliant season on loan at Elland Road in 2019/20.
For Brighton, £25m represented a significant amount of money. They are a smart club, though, and have been proven right in holding on to a player who joined their academy at the age of 16, after he had been released by Southampton. Having been capped and now called up by England for the Euros, and with a full season of Premier League football under his belt, White is already worth much more than the £25m proposed by Leeds.
In his first season of top-flight football, White started all but two league games for Graham Potter’s side and played more Premier League minutes this season than any other Brighton player. A progressive defender who is comfortable on the ball, he has shown himself capable of playing as a centre-back, right-back, defensive midfielder and in a back three. Gareth Southgate, when asked about White, described the 23 year-old as “flexible” and “exciting”.
His inclusion in England’s Euro 2021 squad represents just the latest step up for White, who has been climbing the footballing ladder at a rapid rate. He spent 2017/18 on loan at Newport County in League Two and was so impressive that Michael Flynn, the club’s manager, described him as “the best loan that the club has ever had”.
White represented Peterborough United in League One the following season, before joining Leeds on loan in the summer of 2019 and playing every minute of their promotion campaign. With each year he has moved up a level, and one assumes that the next step will be European club football. There are plenty of admirers at the top end of the league, including Liverpool.
In terms of his style, White is perhaps the most obvious understudy to John Stones in the England squad. Both defenders are capable of bringing the ball out of defence, and both are accustomed to operating in a system that relies on short, accurate passing.
There have been moments this season, especially in the first few weeks of the campaign, when White learned harsh lessons about the quality of international forwards. Against Manchester United in September, he was twice sent to the floor by Marcus Rashford. “I had seen him do it before on YouTube,” White told Gaffer magazine last month. “I still fell for it, didn’t I?”
He is not afraid of a fight, though. Against Crystal Palace in October, he had a running battle with Wilfried Zaha, both on and off the ball. Zaha was not happy but White gave as good as he got. He had no fear then, and he has no reason to feel any fear now.