When Gareth Southgate announces his extended 26-man England squad for Euro 2020 on Tuesday, one player who has never been called up for international duty at any level before is being tipped in some quarters to be a surprise inclusion: Brighton & Hove Albion defender Ben White.
According to reports, White has done enough in his first season as a Premier League regular to convince Southgate he is worthy of a place. Should White make it, then it would be the culmination of a perfectly planned development pathway put in place by Brighton, for a player they picked up at the age of 16 following his release by Southampton.
White has worked his way through the divisions, picking up experience at every level in the Football League in preparation for Premier League football. He spent the 2017/18 season on loan in League Two with Newport County. He followed that up with a spell in League One at Peterborough United in 2018/19 before making waves as Leeds United finally secured their return to the top flight after a 16-year absence in 2019/20.
In 2020/21, White has took to the top flight like a duck to water back at his parent club, impressing as part of a Brighton back line which ended the season with the joint-fifth best defensive record in the division. What makes the Seagulls’ achievements all the more impressive is that it has been done with an all-English back three made up of White, Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster, with Dan Burn providing able back up.
Webster may yet force himself into the international picture in the not-too-distant future. In many people’s eyes, Dunk should be a regular given his form over the past four seasons. However, Southgate has not picked Dunk since the Brighton captain earned his sole cap against the United States in November 2018.
If Southgate does decide to take a defender from the Amex to Euro 2021 and that defender happens to be White, then here are four reasons as to why that would be a wise decision.
Thanks to Brighton’s use of three centre-backs, it has been a common sight throughout the campaign to see both White and Webster stepping into midfield with the ball at their feet to start attacking moves.
White often takes that further and it is not unusual for him to pop up in the final third from open play. In the Seagulls’ thrilling 3-2 win over Manchester City, White was only denied a goal by two excellent blocks after he hit rasping volleys from the edge of the area.
Not even a team with the talent of Pep Guardiola’s champions could cope convincingly with White’s frequent forays forward. It is a skill that would sit well in such an exciting English team full of attacking talents – especially if Southgate is going to insist on using two holding midfielders throughout the tournament.
Nobody seems entirely sure what formation Southgate will be using throughout Euro 2020. He has hinted at a back four against certain opponents and a back three against others.
To seamlessly switch between two different systems, he will need players who understand how to play in both. White very much ticks that box. He has played mainly on the right side of a back three at Brighton this season, the first time in his career he has played regularly in such a formation.
As one of the most tactically fluid managers in the Premier League, Graham Potter has flitted from three at the back to four on occasion, sometimes even in the middle of matches. White also has extensive experience as part of a back four at Leeds, where he partnered captain Liam Cooper in Marcelo Bielsa’s 4-1-4-1.
While there may be doubts surrounding how some of England’s other centre-backs might cope in unusual systems – Conor Coady for example rarely plays outside of a back three at Wolves – White has proven himself capable of playing in any formation at the highest level.
With squad sizes increased from the normal 23 to 26 due to the unique circumstances of Euro 2020, having versatile players who can cover several positions is perhaps not as much of a pressing requirement this time around.
Still, if Southgate is looking for individuals who can fulfil multiple roles then White very much fits the bill. As well as featuring at centre-back for Brighton this season, White has been deployed at right-back, right wing-back and as a central midfielder.
Given how well stocked England are for quality right-backs, it is inconceivable that White would be needed to fill that role during the tournament. In the event of injury and suspension, he could though provide interesting back up as a holding midfielder, especially with Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips both having ended the domestic season injured.
White had arguably his best game of the campaign playing in the middle of the park when Brighton won 1-0 at Leeds in January. He filled the considerable boots of Yves Bissouma, who was only named among the substitutes after returning from suspension.
That the Seagulls did not miss a player of Bissouma’s talents at Elland Road because of how well White played says everything about his ability as a midfielder – even if it is not his natural position.
At just 23 years of age, White is only going to get better. He has everything needed to become an England regular going forward, so it makes sense to take him to Euro 2020 to pick up tournament experience which will serve him well in the future.
This is a talented young England team who go into the summer as one of the favourites. If Euro 2020 proves to be too soon for them to end the nation’s 55-year wait for an international title, then what they learn will stand them in good stead for a crack at the World Cup in 2022.
Given his remarkable rise and the ability and class he possesses, it would come as no surprise to see White going to Qatar as one of England’s key players.