Ben White’s amazing journey from Leeds United loan to Euro 2020 call-up for England

To help motivate them for the biggest tournament of their careers so far, England’s footballers were yesterday shown a video featuring, amongst other things, the journey that had brought them to Europe’s top international tournament.

England's Ben White. Photo: Lee Smith/PA Wire.
England's Ben White. Photo: Lee Smith/PA Wire.

Even though he is only 23, Ben White the last player to make the journey, was at pains to point out his had been a long, multi-faceted one, but there is no doubt Leeds United played a big part.

White may no longer wear the shirt, he might not be born in Leeds or have come through the Thorp Arch academy, but his selection even just for the 26-man squad can be chalked up as another Elland Road success story.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Pushed to name a role model, the adaptable Brighton and Hove Albion centre-back even plumped for Rio Ferdinand.

Having not been in an international squad until late last month, White says the difference is stark, but then the same was true when he stepped up from playing League One football to a loan at Championship Leeds.

Coach Marcelo Bielsa’s training methods are widely regarded as unique and White has said in the past how tough he found the intensity at first, but he ended the campaign as the title winners’ young player of the season. It has made the last week or so more exciting than daunting.

Asked if he felt ready to start having only been added to the final 26-man squad when Trent Alexander-Arnold injured his thigh, White flashed back: “Why not? I’m ready.”

“The last week has been very different to what I’m used to,” he admitted. “At club level you get your rest days but this week has been really tough.

“It shows the level all these players are at and the level I need to get to.

“I’ve played in all the leagues and before each league I was wondering if I could step up but year after year I’ve managed to do it. It’s just another one of them.

“(The style of play) is not too far away from what I’ve been doing all season.

“With the Leeds manager it was very different but it’s good to find different ways to play and different options you can bring to the game.”

Asked about his time at Elland Road, White was careful to put it into context.

“I wasn’t made last season,” he stressed, underlining the part his mother in particular played in his formative years. “I’ve worked hard for 10 years and it doesn’t suddenly just come in a year.

“I had two loans before that (at League Two Newport County and League One Peterborough United) and quite a few games there as well and that’s helped me build and perform at the level I have.

“Going to Leeds I didn’t expect to play the amount of games I did and to go up as champions and play every minute in that season was incredible.

“This season’s gone quickly as well, playing nearly every game in the Premier League and now in the England squad.”

The group reconvened at St George’s Park for the next stage of their preparations yesterday, having trained for the warm-up friendlies at Middlesbrough’s Rockcliffe Hall. White revealed the video the squad watched on arrival referenced “all the players’ struggles coming through the years” but as well as looking at the personal, there was also a focus on the bigger picture.

“It was about the legacy,” explained left-back Luke Shaw, whose own journey included recovering from a serious leg break in 2015 which threatened to make the previous year’s World Cup his only major tournament.

Like White, he would probably not have made the tournament had it started as planned this time last year.

“It mentioned the past players and how important they were to this nation,” the Manchester United defender said of the video.

“At the end of the video there was a little bit about us. I don’t want to go into much detail but the video was very inspiring and you felt like you got a lot of confidence and belief from watching that video – personally in my opinion. I looked around the whole group and I felt everyone had that same feeling.”

In keeping with the practice in English cricket amongst others, yesterday the squad were given “legacy” caps denoting where they stood in the order of 1,262 players to wear the Three Lions since 1872. Coaches Chris Powell and Gareth Southgate received them too.

The intention was to underline the magnitude of what they were part of.

“I thought I was going to be somewhere hot, Portugal or somewhere,” said White.

“It’s mind-blowing, I didn’t really expect any of this to happen. Even the first bit, being in the (provisional) 33-man squad was enough for me and to make the final squad was unbelievable.

“I don’t think I’ve let it settle in yet. It’s something I’ve never felt before.

“News like that doesn’t normally come around. I was speechless and it felt amazing.”

Leeds fans, though, will attest he has earnt it.

“Leeds was really tough – long days, long training, but it’s very different to club level (here),” he said. “The sharpness of all the players here is definitely higher. It’s something I’m going to have to adapt to.”

If there is one thing a man who has played central defender, right-back, wing-back and holding midfielder this season can do, it is adapt.

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.