'I wasn't made last year' - ex Leeds United man Ben White on 'surreal' journey to England Euros squad

After loan spells with Newport County, Peterborough United and Leeds United, England defender Ben White is well accustomed to being thrown in at the deep end.

Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 3:42 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 3:44 pm
OLD PALS - Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips and former Whites loanee Ben White, right, are both in the England squad for the upcoming Euros. Pic: Getty

The 23-year-old was added to Gareth Southgate's final European Championships squad following an injury to Trent Alexander-Arnold, having briefly tasted life in the Three Lions camp as part of a 33-man provisional squad.

Training with the best players the country has to offer was a baptism of fire for White's good friend Kalvin Phillips who took his first steps into international football this season. Phillips admits he was 'in awe' during his first possession-based session and White hints at similar feelings during his England introduction.

It's not his first rodeo, however, having gone from Brighton's academy to the physical environment of League Two with Newport, before progressing through the EFL ranks to eventually play for the Seagulls in the top flight this season.

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The third step on his journey took him to Leeds United, where Marcelo Bielsa's famed murderball asked hugely difficult physical questions of him before he adapted and settled in to become a key player in the Whites' Championship title success. So good was his partnership with Liam Cooper at the heart of the defence and so consistent was he that Leeds tried to bring him to Elland Road on a permanent basis last summer, to no avail.

Leeds fans like to tell their Brighton counterparts that Bielsa made White, and while the defender would like some of the credit himself, each of his loan stints have played a part in creating an international footballer.

"I wasn't made last year, I've worked hard for 10 years," he said.

"It doesn't suddenly just come in a year. I had two loans before that and did well there, that's helped me build to perform at the level I have."

Leeds undoubtedly played a vital part in White's development, giving him an experience he will never forget before Brighton, who handed him an important role in their Premier League season, and Southgate followed suit.

White struggles to get his head around how far he's come.

"It's very surreal," he said.

"Going to Leeds I didn't expect to play the games I did, to go up as champions and play every minute was incredible. This season I've played nearly every game in the Premier League and now I'm in the England squad."

And being in the England squad for any player but certainly a defender, means learning to swim with sharks. White's task on a daily basis as England have been preparing to take on Europe's best, is to try and stop the elite attacking talent in Southgate's squad, like Harry Kane, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho.

Training at St George's Park has been a different and difficult experience.

"The last week has been very different to what I'm used to," he said.

"At club level you get your rest days. Coming here this week has been really tough but it shows the level all these players are at and the level I need to get to.

"Obviously Leeds was really tough, long days, long training but it's something that's very different to club level I think. The sharpness of all the players here is definitely higher, but it's something I'll adapt to and get used to."

White is one of those players blessed with the ability to make the game look easy, like his boyhood example Rio Ferdinand did.

With Leeds his reading of situations was so good he would step up and pick off passes that not only curtailed trouble at source but allowed Bielsa's men to keep their opponents hemmed in, under pressure and striving to keep up with the intensity that all those murderball sessions brings.

The performance he produced on his Leeds debut at Bristol City was the first item of what became a convincing body of evidence that he could more than handle the step up to the Championship and by all accounts he's acclimatised to the Premier League in similar style.

With the potential for him to start against Croatia in the European Championships, his next challenge could be his greatest yet, but he feels ready.

"I've played in all the leagues and for each league I was wondering if I could step up and year after year I've managed to do it," he said.

"Its just another one of them."