England vs Croatia Ben White assessment: Fans may soon see what Brighton, Leeds and Newport County have known for years
There’s rarely any such thing as a meaningless friendly for England, especially one so close to the European Championships.
Albion defender Ben White was drafted into Gareth Southgate’s provisional squad ahead of the Euros last week but few thought the 23-year-old Albion academy graduate would make the final cut.
White was expected by many to gain vital international experience in the tune-ups against Austria and Romania and then be on his summer holidays by the time England face Croatia this Sunday for their Euro curtain raiser.
The Brighton defender/midfielder however made the most of his opportunity and received the ultimate reward. White had missed out on the original squad but the thigh injury to Liverpool’s
Trent Alexander-Arnold opened up a spot and White’s display against Romania at the Riverside last Sunday convinced Southgate the final spot should go to White.
The fact England have injury concerns with centre back Harry Maguire and defensive midfielder Jordan Henderson also worked in White’s favour and saw him selected ahead of
Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse or Man United’s in-form West Ham loanee Jessie Lingard.
Southgate delayed the announcement after the Romania game and said he wanted to check with the medical team first.
Sky Sports reported White learned of his selection on his way home to the south coast around 9.30pm on Sunday.
“Beyond proud and honoured. I’ll give it my everything,” White tweeted after his call-up.
You simply do not play for a Graham Potter team unless you are anything but flexible or versatile. White has featured 36 times for Albion this season – his first in the Premier League – at right back, right wing back, central defender, left side of a defensive trio and also as a holding midfielder.
It’s that versatility that appealed to Southgate and, coupled with the impressive way White conducted himself throughout the week’s training camp, sealed his Euro spot.
The former Newport, Peterborough and Leeds loanee was England’s best defender against the Romanians but anyone who has witnessed White’s displays this campaign wouldn’t have been too surprised.
Composed on the ball, spots danger quickly and crucially he has the pace and timing to make those recovery tackles and blocks.
He will face higher quality opposition than Austria and Romania but White has the ability to be a success at the Euros.
England could well play with a defensive three against the Croatians that could likely include Man City’s Kyle Walker and John Stones. The injury to Maguire leaves a gaping hole and Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings did little to convince against Austria or Romania.
It could be between Wolves skipper Conor Coady and White for that final defensive spot and in the space of a week, the Brighton man has gone from having little chance to making the squad to a potential starter against Croatia.
He said: “It’s been a great experience playing with the players that I have been playing with this week and shows me the level I need to be at, to be a top player like these boys. It has been a great experience for me and obviously it has been tough, but really good.”
Southgate has been monitoring White for some time. Injuries may have fast tracked his progress but White has made the most the of the opportunity. Should he start against Croatia this
Sunday, England fans will witness what Brighton and Leeds have known for the past two seasons.