Ben White has been in tremendous form for Leeds United ever since he joined on a season-long loan from Brighton and Hove Albion, casting his long-term future into doubt about whether he’ll be at the AMEX or elsewhere.
The Whites were looking to bring in another centre-back in the summer after Pontus Jansson was shipped out to promotion rivals Brentford on a permanent deal, and they turned to Brighton’s (then) 21-year-old centre-back Ben White.
A lot of eyebrows were raised about this signing as White had never played in the Championship before, even though he impressed at both Newport County and Peterborough United, with one of his most notable performances to date coming for Newport in a certain FA Cup triumph against a Thomas Christiansen-managed Leeds United.
He came in as a direct replacement to Pontus Jansson and that raised more questions around how Victor Orta could justify letting Jansson leave to a direct rival to be replaced by someone with no experience, but the decision has paid massive dividends.
An ever-present under Marcelo Bielsa, from the first touch of his first appearance, White was glowing with a confidence to play out with the ball effectively that hadn’t been seen in the season prior with Jansson and Liam Cooper together.
Since then, it’s been an almost flawless season for the defender and rather unsurprisingly yielded a lot of interest from some of the Premier League’s big-hitters. The stats back up his tremendous efforts at Elland Road in 2019/20:
Playing predominantly at the heart of defence alongside Liam Cooper, White has been a great asset to the side both in and out of possession, with his immense ball-playing ability coupled with his assured one-on-one defending and reading of the game.
While being an ever-present, he hasn’t been able to always play in his preferred slot, with the injuries and suspensions to Kalvin Phillips meaning there have been a handful of occasions where Bielsa has deployed the 22-year-old as a holding midfielder.
This hasn’t stopped him from clocking up some seriously impressive numbers in a white shirt, as he has averaged a success rate in all of his actions of 75.4% this season, including everything he does on and off the ball.
Breaking this down further and focusing on his defensive abilities, this shows why he has been regarded as one of the top defenders in the division, destined for a spot at the back in the Premier League. He has won a whopping 71.8% of his defensive duels and 54.2% of his aerial duels this season, which outlines the type of defender he is very well.
It would be quite generic to label him as a defender not well-suited to the combative nature of one-on-one defending, but the prowess and confidence he shows when faced with an attacker is nothing short of marvellous. His reading of the game to push forwards into a position where he can steal possession is a major reason for why he comes off on the winning side of the majority of his defensive duels, and while he doesn’t win as many aerial battles as the other top Championship centre-backs, that’s not his job.
It’s quite evident that White will happily let a striker leap for a long ball to get a flick-on in the path of no one, seeing him recover possession time and again without having to engage with an opponent and risk fouling or straying out of position.
Can you name the clubs that these Leeds men started their careers at?
Clever movements like this to read the flight of the ball or the movement of his markers is why he averages 3.83 interceptions per game, getting in the way of promising counter-attacks to kickstart Leeds’ own attacks.
What starts to put White in a league of his own against most of the other Championship defenders is how he combines this defensive robustness with a calmness in possession, as if to suggest that everything is under control and cannot go wrong, even when put under pressure.
Exemplifying this is a passing accuracy of 88.5% which is extremely high on its own, but when taking into account his handful of appearances in an unfamiliar holding role, it shows just how well he retains possession. The numbers behind his performances in holding midfield do take the average down somewhat, such as an accuracy of just 71% against Huddersfield Town in December, but he then regularly hits the mid-90s for a lot of his games at centre-back.
If he is to prove that he can play in the Premier League as a centre-back, his tackling and defensive abilities would be held in equal regard to how he can keep the ball and start moves for whichever team he would be plying his trade for.
Along with stunning passing accuracy, he averages 1.18 progressive runs per game to drive out of the back-line and beat the often-high press of Leeds’ opponents, creating vast amounts of space all over the pitch for the midfield.
Brighton have certainly got a talented player on their hands in Ben White and it will be interesting to see how the plan to deal with him in the summer transfer window, as there won’t be a shortage of offers for him, with Leeds certainly keen to see him continue his development in West Yorkshire, but facing stiff competition from some of the bigger names in the top flight.