This week, reports from the Daily Mail claim that Ben White, Brighton and Hove Albion academy product, is the latest transfer target for Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool attempt to bolster their defensive depth.
The centre-back is on loan at Championship club Leeds United, but his impressive performances have led to much attention across the country. His outstanding early season form has quickly seen him become a fan favourite at Elland Road and one of the first names on the team sheet week in week out for the Whites. But who is the 21-year-old, and why are we only just learning his name?
Who is the 21-year-old, and why are we only just learning his name?
Born in the south coast seaside town of Poole, Ben White was originally picked up by the Southampton academy, only to be released when he was 16. Southampton’s loss was Brighton and Hove Albion’s gain, as they offered the teenager a scholarship which he gladly accepted. He made his first appearance for the Seagulls, and his professional debut, in a League Cup game against Colchester United in 2016, which was followed by a second appearance in the next round against Oxford United.
One year on, White had failed to add to his two first-team appearances with Brighton and was subsequently sent on loan to then League Two Newport County, a deal which Newport gaffer Michael Flynn saw as a “big coup” for the club. Flynn’s statement proved to be correct as the defender starred for the South Wales side throughout the season, including a cup victory against his future club Leeds United and a 1-1 draw against Premier League Tottenham Hotspur, where White lined-up against England captain Harry Kane. Newport finished mid-table, with Ben White picking up the South Wales Argus (a local newspaper covering the club) Player of The Year Award and returning to Brighton with a newfound respectable reputation.
His performances on loan earnt White a new deal with the Albion, securing his services on the south coast until 2021. He started the 2018/2019 season as Brighton’s fourth-choice centre-back yet come January the then 21-year-old hadn’t made a single appearance for the first team and was thus loaned out to League One Peterborough United. His debut for the Posh was memorable for the wrong reasons as White started in a defence that shipped five in an FA Cup loss to Middlesbrough. In a less than impressive loan spell, White featured 16 times in all competitions, scoring one goal for Peterborough as they narrowly missed out on the play-offs and White returned to Brighton with few hopes of challenging the first team the following season.
Whilst White was on loan with Peterborough, Leeds United were enjoying their most successful campaign of recent years, leading to a third-place finish and a failed play-off attempt. Over the summer, talks of Qatari investment and high-profile names were constantly linked to the West Yorkshire outfit as they began building for a second bite of the cherry the following season. Therefore, you can imagine fans' disappointment as the first signing of the transfer window was announced to be an unfamiliar name who’d only managed 16 appearances in League One last season. That disappointment was only increased as Leeds sold iconic Swedish international Pontus Jansson to Brentford, making White one of just two senior centre-backs at the club.
Fast forward two months into the season and Leeds fans couldn’t be happier with their defensive acquisition. White picked up the PFA Fans Player of the Month award for August, and has epitomised the modern-day defender in a Leeds side which has enjoyed a positive start to the season. White has shown himself to be a dominant presence in the air, whilst remaining cool and calm with the ball at his feet. He has been ever-present for Leeds, contributing to five clean sheets and the best defensive record in the league. They currently sit fifth yet remain many fans favourites to clinch promotion and it appears Ben White has a crucial part to play in what could be a historic centenary season for Leeds.
What does the future hold for White?
If his form continues, it’s highly likely Ben White will be lining up in the Premier League next season. However, with Brighton splashing out over £20million on centre backs Adam Webster and Matt Clarke over the summer, is there a place for White on the south coast? Even if Brighton do intend to keep hold of White, the defender’s performances under Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds are now leading to attention from the European champions in Liverpool. Rumours surfacing suggest White is a transfer target for Jurgen Klopp as a replacement for back-up defender Dejan Lovren, with Liverpool reportedly willing to spend £20 million on the 21-year-old.
Ben White very likely has the ability to play at the highest level but which club will be giving White his Premier League opportunity and just how far can the talented defender go?