Monday Musings- A halfway debrief

As Brighton pass the halfway point of their 2020/21 Premier League season, it comes with a fair amount of frustration despite the great promise shown so far. But it’s a feeling of frustration which has a much more positive glow to it after an important 1-0 win away to Leeds United on Saturday.

Brighton went into Saturday’s game on the back of no wins and just 5 points taken from their last 9 league games, a run which means despite Saturday’s victory means they end the first half of the season on their lowest halfway Premier League points total of 17.

Nonetheless, Albion find themselves in their usual position just above the bottom three but not quite engaging with the battle for mid table positions in the Premier League. And with many of the teams around them having games in hand and recently making gains on them in terms of points, Saturday’s win by no means expunges all of the anxiety.

But it’s still been a season of great promise from Graham Potter’s side, as his project to turn Chris Hughton’s robust and solid Albion team into a free flowing attacking side continues to progress.

But the team have often flattered to deceive. Despite plenty of good approach play and plenty of dominating performances it’s not led to improvements at either end of the pitch. Whilst Brighton have now accumulated more expected goals (xG) than their opponents on twelve occasions this season, of those 12 games Saturday was only their second win.

Going forward Albion’s style of play has seen them gain plenty of plaudits, but in terms of goals scored, their total to date of 22 is the same total scored after 19 games last season and only one better than in the first 19 games the season before.

Offensively Albion’s play has probably been typified by Leandro Trossard. Who has hit the woodwork on 5 occasions this season, the equal most in the division along with Chelsea’s misfiring striker Timo Werner. Trossard is a very gifted footballer, arguably Albion’s most talented attacker, but his shooting leaves much to be desired.

At times it’s his decision making that has let him down. As was pointed out by Jon Manuel this week in an article for Stats Perform “With just 0.06 xG per shot it is clear he is a fan of a more speculative effort and, having taken the second-most shots of anyone in the team, it may be worth asking whether it is sometimes better to pass than shoot.” It’s this habit of going for the shot when there is often a better option available that led to some excessive criticism from Percy Tau’s South African faithful after his debut in Brighton’s win over Newport in the FA Cup.

But if Trossard can improve his decision making in the final third he has almost everything required to be a top class player, as evidenced by his continued selection for the Belgian national team squad alongside the likes of Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens. His one-two with Alexis Mac Allister for Brighton’s goal against Leeds is just one of a number of examples of that talent and if he can make more of the opportunities he creates and less so often go for the speculative shot, expect Albion to start turning far more of thier draws into wins.

In fact it’s been 8 draws this season for Albion, the most in the division so far. And most of them have felt like two points dropped rather than a point gained. In comparison, in Chris Hughton’s last season 2018/19, Albion drew just 9 games all season

Trossard’s place in the team may come under threat from the presence of Percy Tau. Whose impressive performances in his first two appearances for the club since being recalled from loan gives Potter even more options to tinker with in attack. What is clear though is that it is most likely to be a place alongside Maupay who Potter tends to select if available come what may.

Along with Trossard, Albion’s top scorer Maupay has been criticised for not taking enough of his chances, but the faith Potter places in him by regularly selecting him despite these lapses in front of goal shows he adds so much more to the team. No Albion player has been involved in more goals this season (8), with Albion’s nearest other players Gross and Trossard on just 4 each. Maupay may miss the odd chance, but he creates more than enough through his movement and interplay with those around him to compensate.

A positive Albion can take from the first half of the season is that aside from a couple of occasions, away to Leicester and Everton, they have always been in games, losing 5 of their 8 defeats by just 1 goal and drawing a further 8.

But their relatively young and inexperienced squad is proving to cost them in the key moments in games. For example, Ben White, who has rightly been lauded for some impressive displays in his first Premier League season, has been one of a few notable players caught out too often when Albion have been defending set pieces.

Indeed, it’s not all been about not taking chances. Albion’s defending is a clear issue too that has limited the figure in its win column.

There have been 12 points dropped from winning positions so far, the most in the Premier League. But if the team put in more defensive displays as they did against Leeds, where they defended their one-goal lead for 73 minutes, then that should become a much less common occurrence.

But despite Saturday’s clean sheet Albion’s naive defending, particularly when in the lead, has not gone away. Even on Saturday when the defensive display was much improved, Dan Burn still got caught in possession whilst overplaying in his own half and let in Leeds, but fortunately for Albion on that occasion it came to nothing.

Many of the defensive statistics are damming. For example Albion’s expected goals conceded based on the chances conceded is 21, 8 less than actual. Also despite having conceded the 5th highest number of goals this season, they have conceded the 3rd fewest shots.

From open play, Albion do tend of defend well. A fact backed up by conceding only 13 of their goals in that manner, the equal 7th fewest in the division. And having only made 1 mistake that led directly to a goal all season. Of course that doesn’t include all the poorly timed tackles that have led to penalties being conceded, like Burn’s on Traore recently against Wolves, or the poor marking at corners that has become all too common.

Then there’s Albion’s struggles in goal, which have no doubt contributed to its defensive issues. Albion’s number one since promotion Maty Ryan lost his place after a period of widely discussed bad form. In his place came the young Robert Sanchez who only has experience of playing in England’s lower divisions. Left in reserve are Jason Steele and Christian Walton, whose experience also comes mostly from outside of the Premier League.

Whilst Sanchez has impressed since coming into the side, question marks still remain and it may prove to be too early for the young ‘keeper. With Ryan having been told by Potter that he should take a good offer to leave if he gets one this month, if Albion are to reinforce any area of the pitch this month, a new goalkeeper should be its number one priority.

If the action in both boxes is its weakness, Albion strength is most definitely in its approach play and in the midfield. On the wings Lamptey and March have been consistently dangerous going forward whilst the signing of central midfielder Adam Lallana has proved a shrewd piece of business despite his injury problems. The continued improvement of Alzate and Bissouma has only made Albion stronger in that area of the pitch, whilst Pascal Gross has been revitalised in a slightly deeper area of the pitch as a back up for Lallana.

When it comes to business in the January transfer window, Potter has said on numerous occasions that he is happy to work with what he has. This willingness to do so will no doubt have been part of the reason he was given the job in the first place. In contrast it is fairly well-known that Hughton did have disagreements about recruitment with other senior members of staff at Albion during the end of his tenure.

And given we don’t expect this team to be given any significant reinforcements, it’s a good thing too that there is this willingness from Potter. If the team are going to start turning their dominance in games into victories, they will be relying on some of their younger talents like Trossard, White and Maupay to cut out the errors, be more clinical and repay the faith Potter has placed in them more consistently.

But given this Albion squad is relatively young, we should forgive them for their individual mistakes. However, they will need to learn from their lessons quickly and execute Potter’s plan more effectively in the second half of the season if Albion are to avoid relegation for a fourth consecutive season.

2005/06 – A year of contrasting disappointment for Brighton and Leeds

For Leeds and Brighton, 2020 represented a year of success. For Leeds promotion back to the topflight for the first time in 16 years has seen them shake off the “fallen giant” tag. Whereas for Brighton, Premier League survival has seen them match their longest and to date only other spell in the topflight of four years.

But go back 15 years and things were very different for both clubs who started the 2005/06 season together in the recently rebranded Championship.

Albion were out of their depth financially in the second tier, a period probably best exemplified by a striker shortage solved by reutilising defender and youth team product Adam Virgo as a target man. He went onto be the team’s top scorer with 8 goals as they survived relegation on the last day of the 2004/05 season. It was a problem that dramatically arose after the form of Leon Knight plummeted after he had fired the Seagulls to promotion the season before with 27 goals, scoring just 4 goals in 41 appearances that season.

The summer of 2005 saw Adam Virgo sold to Celtic for £1.5m in a deal described by chairman Dick Knight as “The Best Deal I Ever Did”. Saying in his book he thought Virgo was only actually worth around £200k. It was a price that led to speculation of dodgy dealings between Albion manager Mark McGhee and then Celtic manager Gordon Strachan who would later work together for Scotland as assistant manager and manager respectively. But as McGhee told the Athletic recently: “People have suggested that there was some sort of skulduggery going on between Gordon and I because of the amount of money they ended up paying. I have to give credit to Dick. He was the one who forced it up to that price. It wasn’t me. I kind of stepped back, partly because of my association with Gordon.”

In his place came the “Coca Cola Kid”, Colin Kazim Richards. Nicknamed as such after his fee was paid for when the club had won from the Coca Cola win a player fund. A cheque for the £250k prize fund was presented to Dick Knight at the 2005 Championship playoff final between West Ham and Preston.

It was a fund that Dick Knight said in his book “Mad Man” he originally wanted to use to bring Bobby Zamora back to the club. And having spoken to his current club West Ham’s owners at that game, Dick says they seemed interested in a deal. Until that is when Zamora scored the winner for West Ham that day, which secured the Hammers promotion to the topflight and killed any deal.

So Kazim Richards it was. Unfortunately for Albion, he was young, inexperienced and couldn’t be solely relied on to lead the line and provide the goals this Albion side were missing, like Bobby Zamora had done previously. Compared to the 14 Zamora scored for Albion in an injury-hit 2002/03 season when Albion were also relegated from the second tier, Kazim Richards managed just 6, not scoring in any Albion victories. So whilst in 02/03 Albion were only relegated on the final day after failing to beat Grimsby, in 05/06 Albion finished bottom, 12 points adrift of survival and were ultimately relegated with two games to spare after a dismal defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

Another of mercurial Albion’s strikers Leon Knight, who had been becoming progressively anonymous since his 27 goals inspired the club’s promotion from the third tier in 2004 and was sold to Swansea in the January of this season. But not before being threatened with being kicked off the club coach in the middle of the New Forest by manager Mark McGhee who simply had lost patience with the one time goal machine.

McGhee had already publicly questioned Knight’s attitude in training and after he questioned McGhee’s decision to drop goalkeeper Michel Kuipers before an away match with Southampton, he was first threatened with being kicked off the coach and then subsequently told he wasn’t even welcome in the dressing room. Leon then scored a hat trick on his Swansea debut just four days later, but that was a rare high point of his short time with Swansea and his career saw a quick demise thereafter.

In contrast, Leeds had come from the other direction. Having finished 3rd in the Premier League in 2000, reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001 and begun 2002 top of the Premier League, a sudden financial crisis hit the club that had been building for a while as a result of financial mismanagement and saw a fast and dramatic fall from grace for the club.

By the end of 2002 many of their star players had to be sold and they ended the 2002/03 season 15th. But despite those sales the club’s finances were not under control and they were relegated to the championship the following season, and finished a disappointing 14th the next as the club were forced to sell both their training ground and their stadium to make ends meet.

By the time they had reached the 2005/06 season the Leeds squad had already seen a number of successive seasons of mass overhauls, a job recently inherited by manager Kevin Blackwell and chairman Ken Bates. A host of players exited Elland Road that summer, most notably star player Aaron Lennon who moved to Tottenham. In their place came a host of loan signings and free transfers along with a handful of paid for players including that season’s club top scorer Rob Hulse.

One player that Leeds also signed for a fee that summer was the Albion left back Dan Harding. It was a transfer that went to a tribunal to decide the fee. Despite him being out of contract, as he was under 24 Albion were still entitled to compensation so Leeds were ordered to pay the club £850k. Youth team product Dan Harding was one of Albion’s most prized possessions having been recently nominated by Four Four Two as one of the top 50 players outside the Premier League, but over the previous season he and the club had engaged in drawn out and ultimately fruitless contract negotiations that did nothing for the reputation of either party. But despite a promising start to his season, it was an injury hit one and he moved to Ipswich at the end of the season in an exchange for another former Leeds and Brighton player Ian Westlake.

Given the nature of his exit and the extended contract talks which preceded it, it is little surprise that when the two sides met in September Harding was booed by the Brighton supporters every time he touched the ball in a 3-3 draw at Elland Road. It was ultimately a draw that was harsh on Albion who led 2-0 through a rare Leon Knight goal and a second from Sebastian Carole only for a David Healy double to level the scores, who was fresh from his heroics of scoring a famous winner for Northern Ireland against England at Windsor Park. A Sean Gregan own goal looked to have won the game for the Seagulls but Leeds equalised in injury time through Jonathan Douglas to earn the home side a point.

Whilst Leeds manager Keven Blackwell was adamant his team deserved to win and that Healy “could have had six goals”, “the mighty mighty whites Leeds” fan site is far more magnanimous saying “Leeds were lucky to get anything out of Brighton”.

This wasn’t the first time Albion’s defence proved to be leaky that season, in fact they conceded a total of 71 goals, the second highest in the division. And it was no coincidence that Albion’s former club captain and defensive rock Danny Cullip had left in the December of the previous season. So the young Irish defender Pat McShane was brought in for the 2005/06 season on loan from Man United to fill the still resultant gap.

Despite the defensive issues, McShane’s quality shone at the back and he went on to win the club’s player of the season award, which his centre back partner Guy Butters had won two years previously and McShane remains the only loan signing to have ever been voted as Albion’s Player of the Season.

McShane in part received the award for the appreciation of his contribution to one of Albion’s highlights of the season, scoring the winner in a 1-0 win at Selhurst park over rivals Crystal Palace, which left Albion 20th as at the same time saw Leeds climb to 4th in the table.

As the season progressed it looked as if both teams were in a good place to achieve their respective goals come the end of the season. A win over QPR on Boxing Day put Albion four points clear of the relegation zone courtesy of a Guy Butters header. Whilst a 3-1 win at home to Coventry put Leeds 3rd and closing in on the previously run-away top two, in particular Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United.

For Albion though the joy of their fourth victory of the season was tempered by the loss of captain Charlie Oatway to an ankle injury in what turned out to be a career-ending injury for the central midfielder and the man who inherited the captaincy from Cullip. That it was also against the club he supported as a boy was an even crueller twist of fate and left Oatway on 248 appearances for the club over eight years. His injury hit Albion hard as they lost ten of their next twelve, which left them five points from safety and second bottom of the league going into March.

Brighton’s 2-1 win over Leeds at Withdean in January was a rare highlight of an otherwise bleak winter of Albion. The win was secured by a goal from Gary Hart and lifted them out of the bottom three. It gave Albion belief that a second consecutive survival could be achieved, but a run of 7 defeats and a draw in the next eight would essentially secure relegation for McGhee’s Albion side.

There would be some hope for Brighton. A subsequent run of three straight draws and a win over 3-0 fellow strugglers Millwall gave them a faint lifeline. But as manager Mark McGhee stated ‘It’s probably too late for both of us. But this gives us a chance. Who knows?”

And so it turned out, as four defeats in the final five meant any hopes of a great escape were quickly squandered. With both Brighton and Millwall relegated, finishing 12 and 10 points from safety respectively.

With relegation this side was quickly dismantled. McGhee was sacked shortly after the beginning of the following season whilst Albion’s young striker Kazim-Richards made the move to the Premier League with Sheffield United during the summer. A year later he found himself playing for Turkish giants Fenerbahce and in 2008 he appeared for semi-finalists Turkey at the European Championships, a long way from the Withdean stadium.

For Leeds the defeat to Brighton may have seemed at the time as a blip, but signalled what was to come. A good run of five wins in the next eight left them going into the final ten games very much in the automatic promotion hunt, now only five points adrift of Sheffield United after being 17 points behind earlier in the season. But an end of season slump left them settling for the playoffs with three games to spare. And to rub salt in their wombs the first of those three games was a high tempered affair away to the newly promoted Sheffield United on Easter Tuesday which ended 1-1.

After beating Preston in the playoff semi-finals, the playoff final saw another capitulation from this Leeds side as a 3-0 defeat to Watford cost them promotion back to the topflight and so much more aside. It was a defeat that signalled their continued demise. Further struggles were to follow with relegation to League one next season and the subsequent infamous angry pitch invasion from Leeds fans which followed. Then there was the equally infamous defeat to Histon in the FA cup, it would be a long and winding road back for the Leeds faithful.

At the time there was much optimism at Leeds of what was to come. Chairman Ken Bates said to the Leeds players in the dressing room after the playoff final that: “They had given what they had and they had given their best. I said that tomorrow is the first day of our Championship season.” Little did they know how misplaced that optimism would turn out to be.

I doubt many who saw Leeds lose the 2006 playoff final thought it would take Leeds another 14 seasons for them to get back to the topflight. Or that the 05/06 season would be their highest league finish for another thirteen years, before the arrival of a certain Marcelo Bielsa saw their return to the topflight. Nor that this Brighton team who were then playing in a converted Athletics stadium with a four figure capacity, still battling a lengthy and expensive planning permission battle for a new stadium and out of their depth in the second tier, would return to the topflight three years before Leeds.

When you look back at this period of Leeds’ history, it’s somewhat explains the reprehensible and overly defensive attitude we’ve seen from some of its supporters towards Karen Carney and other critics of the club in recent months.

Having experienced such highs in the 60s and 70s and then again in the 90s and early 2000s, this demise will have been hard to swallow for many of its supporters. Especially given that it was largely self-induced by its own incompetent leadership. And as a result, the club became the punchline of jokes for the rest of the English football community.

It was a trend that would last until the recent Bielsa-led renaissance of the club. Meanwhile less prestigious club’s like Brighton had leapfrogged them into the topflight and Leeds were and still are desperate to put things straight.

Following the 2005/06 season, the next 14 years would see both clubs have plenty of disappointing days and see much concern over each club’s existence. But more recently they have both been had periods of great and historic success.

The current reality for both is that amongst times of great global economic struggles, the Premier League represents a whole new challenge altogether for both.

Ben White – a story of rejection and redemption

Ben White was previously profiled along with a number of Brighton’s other U23 team last summer by Tweeting Seagull contributor @seagullsacademy, which you can read here.

Like many footballers back stories Ben White’s begins with rejection. In 2014 the 16-year old born in Poole was released by Southampton. In such circumstances do many prospective football careers end, whilst a small selection of others are formed. Ben White fortunately falls into the latter category after he was given a second chance by Brighton. As he later said himself, “The club gave me a scholarship and took me all the way until now, so I’m very grateful for that.” 

For Brighton, 2014 was largely a disaster, instigated by some terrible recruitment over the year, along with the appointment of the soon to be found wanting new manager Sami Hyypia that summer. But the addition of Ben White would soon become a rarity for much of the club’s 2014 intake, in that they would begin to see the fruits of it.

White impressed so much in his first year as a scholar for the U18s that he was soon also involved with the U21s and by end of the season had earned himself a professional contract and a place in that summers 25-man first team pre-season training camp. After starting a first team friendly against Lewes, an injury halted any further involvement with the first team and he spent the remainder of the following season again in the U18s and U21s.

He was then involved as a substitute in a number of first team pre-season games ahead of the following 2016/17 season, including as a substitute in the club’s showpiece friendly at home to Lazio.

As the season started, with Albion struggling for number in defence because of injuries to Uwe Huenemeier and Connor Goldson, White was heavily involved with the first team squad. Being named as an unused substitute for the first four league fixtures of the season and making his debut in the first round of the EFL cup in a 4-0 win over Colchester alongside Rohan Ince in the centre of defence.

White impressed on his debut as a young Albion defence earned a clean sheet and he earned himself a second start in a 4-2 win over Oxford in the second round. But the signing of Ireland international Shane Duffy for a then club record fee and the continued progression of fellow Albion youth team product Lewis Dunk meant Ben White’s involvement with the first team was limited from then on and he spent most of the season playing for Brighton’s U23s in their inaugural season in Premier League 2 and helping the team get to the final of the Premier League 2 Cup, which they lost 1-0 to Swansea City.

As the 2017/18 season drew near White was again involved in first team pre-season training. But with opportunities in the first team continuing to be limited by the increased competition for places and Chris Hughton’s tendency to not make many changes to team selection, White was sent on loan to League 2 Newport for the season to get some game time.

Whilst there, he came up against England striker Harry Kane in Newport’s impressive run to the 4th round of the FA Cup, which saw them beat his future loan club Leeds in the 3rd round. A 1-1 draw in the original tie against Spurs saw White mark Kane admirably as Newport pulled off a shock draw at home to earn a replay at Tottenham’s temporary home, Wembley Stadium.

Ben said of his time there: “The cup run was amazing, what we achieved and the manner in which we secured the game with Tottenham Hotspur was brilliant. Then we nearly beat them in the home tie, but to then play at Wembley Stadium was a dream come true. Facing Harry Kane was great for me and I feel like I more than held my own against him.”

White came to the attention of many clubs and many Albion fans during this loan spell at Newport. Whilst the club had finished a fairly underwhelming 11th place in the league, he had greatly impressed. Both to the masses in the cup run and the locals throughout the season, winning four of Newport’s player of the season awards, the Doc Heffernan Shield for Young Player of the Year; the Brian’s Tom’s President’s Cup Player’s Player of the Year Award; the Supporters’ Club Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. County’s manager Mike Flynn described him as an “outstanding talent” and the best loan signing the club had ever made.

After a successful loan Ben White received a new contract from the club until 2021, with Brighton manager Chris Hughton telling the club’s official website: “I’m delighted for Ben, and he is another example of a young player that has worked very hard to develop his game over the last couple of years. We have closely monitored his progress at Newport, and it is very pleasing to see him adapt so well to a very competitive standard of football in League Two. I was pleased to give him his debut for this club in the EFL Cup match against Colchester last season, and he thoroughly deserves this new contract.”

The following season, after White’s success at Newport, Hughton included White as a part of the 1st team squad, becoming the effectively now fourth choice central defender. At the start of the season Chris Hughton said of his central defence options beyond his top 3, “If I am looking within, the natural ones in that position would be Ben White” Going on to say: “Particularly in that position you would want as much experience as possible but on numerous occasions, not just myself but with other clubs, a young player comes in and surprises a few. So if that opportunity arose for him then you’d want him to take it with both hands.”

But unfortunately chances weren’t forthcoming. As after an injury ruled him out of EFL cup action, and the brilliant form of Shane Duffy alongside then vice-captain Lewis Dunk, plus the experience of new signing Nigeria international Leon Balogun meant he struggled to get a look in. Some were beginning to question by this point why the club wasn’t entrusting Ben with the back-up centre back spot, but as Hughton said in the earlier quote, his is a position where experience is key. And as many young talented English footballers have found to their cost, youth team football and one season in the lower leagues doesn’t fully prepare you for the rigours of the Premier League.

As a result, another loan move looked like a sensible option for White at the time. Especially with first team chances so limited and another centre back in Dan Burn being added to Brighton’s defensive ranks that January. So White that month was sent out on loan, this time to League One Peterborough. Chris Hughton said, “This move is one which allows Ben to play regular first-team football at a good level for his development. At this stage of his career it’s important that he continues to gain as much match experience as possible. He’s someone who we’ve had around the first-team squad for the first half of the campaign, but with competition for places increased with the return of Dan Burn from Wigan, this gives him the chance to go out and play regular football at a level higher than he experienced last season.”

It was a tough start to his loan stint, which saw a 5-0 defeat in a FA Cup 3rd tie away to Middlesbrough in his first game. But despite this White was described as “a ray of light amid the Middlesbrough gloom” by the Peterborough Telegraph and given a 7 out of 10. Once again whilst out on loan White impressed with his calmness, intelligence on the ball and awareness when defending. And as the season went on, he was a key player for Peterborough as they just missed out on the playoffs. Yet more signs of greater things to come.

Part way through that season Dan Ashworth was appointed Technical director at Brighton and soon started putting his stamp on the club. In particular with the club’s summer transfer business including a number of young talented English player to add to the first team competition for places. This included Adam Webster and Matt Clarke, both signed from Championship clubs adding competition to Ben White’s position at centre back. And with Graham Potter replacing Chris Hughton as manager and keen to not change too much too soon or introduce too many of Albion’s talented young U23s into the first team, another loan move for Ben White made sense.

And he would be one of a large group of youngsters at the club that were sent on loan that season. That summer Dan Ashworth, head of loans David Weir and head of recruitment Paul Winstanley attended an event as Stamford Bridge dubbed a “transfer speed dating event”, which they attended in order to promote its young loan players to other clubs. And given the clubs U23 team finished 3rd in the Premier League 2 and the team’s top scorer Aaron Connolly won the league’s player of the season it’s no surprise there was a lot of interest

But considering how well Ben had done at Newport and Peterborough there was no real need to advertise his availability, many clubs had already taken note of his talents. And a loan move to Leeds United in the Championship was agreed for the upcoming 2019/20 season. Like a number of clubs, Leeds had been tracking White’s progress for about two years, around the period of time which had passed since they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Ben White’s Newport County in fact.

White’s U23 boss Simon Rusk said of the loan: “This is an exciting move for Ben and one that make sense in his natural development. Ben will have to adapt once again, as he joins a new group of players and experiences an increased standard of quality and athleticism in the Championship.”

Brighton were only willing to sanction a temporary exit for White to Leeds, who were initially keen on a permanent move or a loan with an option to buy in 12 month’s time. To further protect their investment Ben White was tied down to a longer term deal until 2022, a big coup for the club given there was serious talk of Spurs amongst others being interested in signing the youngster that summer.

At Brighton it was the newly appointed head of loans David Weir who’d keep the club in contact with Ben. His role at the club is to manage the relationships with the club’s loan players. A role that’s been created by the significant amount of loan deals the club are sanctioning for its youth players to encourage their development with a view of them either being promoted to the first team or sold on at a profit.

David Weir said of his role: “It’s also about meeting people who might be interested in our players and find markets and clubs who might potentially be interested in taking our players. It’s a really good tool for me – to meet a lot of clubs in a relatively short period of time and open up some new avenues.”

Ben White’s loan was a real coup, not just for Leeds to get such a sought after player, but for Ben too. Having experienced mid table finishes in League’s 1 and 2, to now get the experience at a club in the Championship with the expectations that Leeds had was huge for his development. Having narrowly missed out on promotion the season before there were now increased expectations that the club would go one better the following season. Whilst being able to work with a manager of such global and almost mythical renown as Marcelo Bielsa too, it had the potential to be a massive season in his development.

So it turned out. It wasn’t long before heads were starting to turn toward Ben’s performances. He won widespread praise on his debut in a 3-1 win over Bristol City and never looked back. Sky Sports pundit that day Louis Carey described Ben White’s debut for Leeds as “one of the best Championship debuts I’ve seen.”

David Wier told the Athletic part way through season: “You could argue that he could play for Brighton now. He has got better and better, and has done better than anyone could have expected. He’s right up there in terms of the top defenders in the Championship. We’re all thrilled by how he is doing and the progression he has made. He’s a great example of a loan programme working well.”

And Ben White has been getting praise from far and wide for his performances at Leeds with Alex Stewart of the Athletic saying: “While White’s defending is intelligent and proactive, it’s his work with the ball that marks him out as an outstanding prospect.” Going on to say “What’s clear, though, is he has the skills to succeed almost anywhere.”

Ben White certainly left a lasting mark at Leeds United. As the fans celebrated the Championship title and promotion, Ben White joined his teammates on the steps outside Elland Road to join in the celebrations and Ben revelled in the moment as the fans urged him to join the club permanently. And the subsequent #FreeBenWhite social media campaign shows just how highly the young defender is thought of by the Leeds faithful. Something all those who have been involved in his development over the past 6 years at Brighton can take great pride in.

With the season now over, according to reports in the Brighton Argus, Albion have continued their stance that they held the previous summer by telling suitors that Ben White isn’t for sale. But just because of his recent success and hype, he isn’t simply going to walk into the Brighton first team next season. As David Weir said on the clubs official website recently, the reality that Ben White now faces at Brighton is: “Now he has to come back to us and prove that he is a Premier League player. He has shown that he is good enough to be promoted out of the Championship and be consistent.”

That said, the transfer window still has a long way to go and whilst Albion have said White is not for sale, every player has a price. Whether White is playing at Brighton, Leeds or another club next season, it’s almost certain that the Premier League will be his destination for the season ahead.

Whilst there is still plenty for White prove. If his track record tells us anything, it’s that he has continued to rise to every challenge he’s faced. It’s not been a completely smooth ride for him into English football’s top level over the last six years, but there’s plenty of reasons to believe that the 2020/21 season will see further success for Ben White.