Ben White: An in-demand defender who paddleboards – all you need to know about England call-up

The 23-year-old only made his Premier League debut in September.

Ed Elliot
Tuesday 25 May 2021 14:02
Countdown to Euro 2020: Daily briefing

Uncapped Brighton defender Ben White has been included in England’s provisional 33-man squad for the European Championship.

The 23-year-old’s selection by national team manager Gareth Southgate comes following an impressive first season of Premier League action.

Here, the PA news agency highlights seven things you may not know about the ball-playing centre-back.

“Booted out” by Southampton

Born in Poole, Dorset in October 1997, White’s first steps towards professional football were taken just along the south coast at Southampton. He joined a successful academy which helped launch the careers of Alan Shearer, Theo Walcott, Wayne Bridge, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as Wales forward Gareth Bale. But, in his own words, he was “booted out” by Saints aged 16 in 2014, before bouncing back from the rejection by seizing the chance of a trial with then-Championship club Brighton.

Rapid rise of the loan ranger

White is on the brink of an international debut having played in four different divisions during the past four seasons. He was hailed as Newport’s greatest loan signing by Exiles manager Michael Flynn after starring for the club in League Two in 2017-18. He spent the second half of the following campaign with League One Peterborough and was then ever-present for Leeds in their Championship title-winning team of 2019-20. White only made his Premier League debut in September – Brighton’s 3-1 loss at home to Chelsea – and missed just two top-flight fixtures all campaign, capping a remarkable rise.

Wembley experience

Ben White, right, spent the 2017-18 season on loan at League Two Newport, including playing an FA Cup tie against Tottenham at Wembley

Each of England’s three Euro 2020 group games, plus two last-16 ties, both semi-finals and the final, will be staged at Wembley. White has previous experience of playing at the national stadium, albeit in far different circumstances. During his spell with Newport – which White picked ahead of joining Brighton’s neighbours Crawley in order to get outside his comfort zone – the south Wales club were drawn against Tottenham in the FA Cup. A 1-1 draw at Rodney Parade forced a fourth-round replay at Spurs’ temporary home of Wembley. White played the opening 77 minutes of the 2-0 defeat in north London in front of a crowd of almost 39,000, including more than 7,000 travelling fans.

Brighton pride

Captain Lewis Dunk was the last Brighton player to represent England

If White continues to impress Southgate he could swiftly become Brighton’s most-capped England player. Only four other Seagulls players have represented the Three Lions, winning just six caps combined. Lewis Dunk – White’s current team-mate – made his debut in 2018 but has since been overlooked, while club record scorer Tommy Cook and Peter Ward each have single caps, won in 1925 and 1980 respectively. Former defender Steve Foster leads the way for the Sussex side. He collected three caps in 1982 under the management of Ron Greenwood, including an outing at that year’s World Cup.

In demand

Whether White sticks around to make that small piece of history is another matter. He has been repeatedly linked with a move away from the Amex Stadium, with Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Italian club Roma among those rumoured to be interested. White has three years left on the contract he signed in September to fend off interest from former loan club Leeds and would not come cheap. Brighton boss Graham Potter compared White to a £25million new signing at the start of the season and, given the growth in his status since, recent reports suggesting the Seagulls would now demand double that figure may not be unrealistic.

Prefers paddleboarding to watching football

White recently revealed his earliest footballing memory was urging his mother to “get in goal” in the garden while she was attempting to hang out washing. Nowadays he escapes the pressures of professional football by attempting to avoid the topic during his spare time. He rarely talks about the game when at home and admits to not tuning in to matches on television. In a further bid to break free of the demands of football, he is making the most of being on the south coast and has taken up paddleboarding in the sea.

Compared to Ferdinand and Stones

Ben White has been likened to Manchester City defender John Stones, right

White’s calmness and confidence on the pitch is matched by a self-assured persona. Also capable of operating in defensive midfield, he is accomplished in possession, has good positional sense and is unlikely to panic under pressure. He has taken the step up to the top flight in his stride, describing it as “not massively different” and “a game of football at the end of the day”. Athletic, brave and an excellent passer of the ball, White’s style of play has been likened to fellow England international John Stones, as well as former Three Lions defender Rio Ferdinand.

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