This article first appeared on ESPN on February 21, 2021 and has been modified.
At the age of 23, Brighton’s Ben White has become one of the top rated young central defenders in England. Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have all been linked to the defender in recent months, but it was the Gunners who spent £ 50m to land the England international when United moved to Raphael Varane, Liverpool Ibrahima Konate, while sources have reported ESPN that Chelsea wants Seville’s Jules Kounde.
After taking a few years to reach the top position, White is now looking good in the Premier League and should bolster Arsenal’s defense following the departure of David Luiz. Here are the facts about a defender who idolized Rio Ferdinand and who could become a star for the club and the country in the future.
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Where did he come from
White was born in Poole and is a product of the Southampton Academy. After failing to get the grade there, he was picked up from Brighton at the age of 16. After several years in the youth teams, he spent the entire 2017-18 season on loan to Newport County in the second division, where he showed signs that he came up with an outstanding performance to defeat Harry Kane in a 1-1 draw at home against Tottenham in the fourth round of the FA Cup in January 2018, although he was less impressive in the replay when they lost 2-0. The following year he rose with a loan in League One at Peterborough.
His real breakthrough was something of a late bloomer on his loan from Leeds United in 2019-20. During his successful promotion campaign, White did not miss a single minute in the championship, prompting the club to permanently secure its services with three offers, the last reportedly being £ 25million.
However, having kept a close eye on the player’s development under Marcelo Bielsa, Brighton knew better and wisely rejected any interest. White signed a new four-year deal with Brighton last September and rose from success to success in the Premier League before the club finally accepted a huge offer from Arsenal.
The versatility is certainly one factor why the 23-year-old is so highly valued. During his time at Leeds, Bielsa played mostly white as a center-back in a back four, although he made some cameos as a holding midfielder in the championship.
Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a Norwegian soccer scout and manager and former managing director and sports director of AS Monaco. He will be a regular contributor to ESPN about football and scouting.
He’s appearing higher up with Brighton this season, protecting the back three (or in rare cases the back four) from a defensive midfield position. Particularly impressive was his performance in the 1-0 away win at Elland Road (ironically) a few weeks ago, in which he delivered a mature performance; Pick up loose balls, intercept potential dangers and distribute them efficiently.
“I took all the knowledge from the games I played for Leeds in central midfield and tried to put it in for Brighton,” he told The Athletic. “It’s obviously a different team, different players, a different league, but the basics are the same. You have to run, put pressure on people, lower people’s heads and try to spin the ball for your team.”
While Brighton’s manager Graham Potter has appeared to favor White as the right center-back in his back three lately, he also has the attributes to easily step in as a right-back.
White offers a happy marriage between an old-school midfielder and the modern, discerning center-back. On the one hand he is one of the most avid tacklers in the Premier League and is not afraid of the physical dimension of the game, on the other hand he is agile, quick to change direction and movement on the pitch, calm in possession of the ball and a moderate passer of the ball (the last two qualities are useful to avoid the pressing of opposing strikers).
He is also aggressive, regularly wins the ball high up (mandatory in a Bielsa team and another reason why the Argentine boss appreciates him) and is confident enough to get the ball out of defense, often storming a few opponents beforehand past releasing it.
White also plays with high concentration; he “seldom switches off”, which is underpinned by his preference for spectacular goal-line distances.
Ben White is a top young defender who should go a long way. Richard Heathcote / Getty Images
He’s still a young, developing center-back with only half a season of top-class experience, so there is bound to be room for improvement in certain areas. Even so, his game doesn’t seem to have any major flaws, which is impressive considering his age. He already sees a bright future in the game as he was called up for England at Euro 2020.
As he is primarily a proactive and aggressive center-back – who will commit relatively few fouls for a player with his characteristics – it is probably better for White to play with a partner with a more calculated defensive approach (Lewis Dunk clearly fits that description at Brighton), since he may still appear overly eager to regain possession or take individual risks.
At 6-foot-1, his lack of height is also a matter of compromise; Obviously, if he were a few inches taller, he would win a higher percentage of his dogfight challenges (it’s between 65% and 70%, a little too low for a center-back), but he wouldn’t be as efficient at regaining the ball or winning of challenges on the ground.
A quick, adaptable, alert center-back who is good on the ball and likes to get possession of the ball high on the pitch, it’s no surprise Arsenal made the move. Having made himself so useful to Bielsa (albeit a step down), Mikel Arteta clearly values the same skills the Argentine fell in love with and White’s mobility and pace should come in handy in the Emirates . However, whether he’ll get a return on the club’s £ 50m investment remains to be seen.