England boss Gareth Southgate’s decision to hand Ben White a Euro 2020 call-up to replace the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold has come as a real surprise to many.
Just when it appeared that Jesse Lingard and James Ward-Prowse were the ones in contention for that final place, it was Brighton & Hove Albion defender White who got the nod. It had been a shock enough to some when White was called up to the provisional 33-man squad having never been involved with any England squad at any level.
The 23-year-old centre-back made his England debut in last Wednesday’s 1-0 friendly win over Austria, coming on as a substitute, and then made his full debut against Romania on Sunday, playing alongside Tyrone Mings as the Three Lions kept a clean sheet in another 1-0 victory. Southgate ensured he took his time when selecting Alexander-Arnold’s replacement, with White, Ward-Prowse, Lingard, Ben Godfrey and Ollie Watkins all being on the standby list.
White currently plies his trade at the Amex Stadium, having come through Brighton’s academy after being released by Southampton at the age of 16. After catching the eye of then-boss Chris Hughton, White was named on the bench for Brighton’s first Championship fixture in the 2016-17 season against Derby County. His professional debut came three days later when he played the entirety of the 4-0 victory over Colchester United in the EFL Cup first round in a 4-0 victory over Colchester United, going on to play a number of other cup games during that campaign.
The following season, the young defender joined League Two side Newport County, making a total of 51 appearances whilst also scoring his first Football League goal in a 2-1 victory away to Barnet. White received recognition when Newport progressed to the FA Cup fourth round with a 2-1 win over Leeds United, going on to play at Wembley in the fourth-round replay against Tottenham Hotspur and turning in a highly-praised performance up against Harry Kane.
The South Wales Argus named White as the 2017-18 Newport Player of the Year, and at the awards ceremony County boss Michael Flynn described White as “the best loan signing the club has ever made”.
In January 2019, after mostly playing for Brighton’s under-23s, White joined League One side Peterborough United on loan for the remainder of the season, making 16 appearances and scoring one goal during his spell at London Road.
His profile significantly increased in the 2019-20 season when he joined Leeds United on loan for the season in which they won the Championship and were promoted to the Premier League. The defender made 49 appearances and scored one goal – a sublime volley on the final day of the season against Charlton Athletic which earned him Goal of the Month for July.
It was during his spell at Leeds that White’s name reached the ear of England boss Southgate. He came to watch White in January 2020 while also keeping an eye on his teammate Kalvin Phillips. At the end of the season, he was named Leeds United’s Young Player of the Season and also made the Championship PFA Team of the Year.
Upon his return to Brighton, manager Graham Potter made White a key figure in his back-line in the Premier League for the 2020-21 season and 36 league appearances later he was called up to the standby list ahead of Euro 2020.
Southgate is clearly a big fan of White and he feels he can offer something different to his other centre-halves. The youngster is comfortable in a back three, which is something Southgate has always been open to, and White can also play in a holding midfield role if required.
With the surprise selection of White over set-piece whizz Ward-Prowse or the energetic Lingard, it raises questions over Southgate’s hopes to have Harry Maguire fit for most of the Euro campaign. If the Manchester United captain is to only be fit for the knockout stage, White could have a role to play during England’s Group D calendar.
Maybe this is a move Southgate wouldn’t have made if this was any normal year with a 23-player roster to select, but the extra three spaces have opened up the opportunity to take bolstered resources in defence. Still, the manager might find he has questions to answer if England prove to be short of an attacking thrust and White doesn’t get the game time his recent ascent to the top of the game has deserved.