Manchester United have struggled in the center position since the end of the legendary partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić. However, United finally found one foundational piece to their centre-back puzzle in the form of new club captain Harry Maguire, signed last summer. Victor Lindelöf and Eric Bailly have also shown promising signs, but — despite Lindelöf’s current hold on the first choice role — nothing has been set in stone as to who will partner Maguire week-in and week-out in the future.
Enter Ben White.
White has recently been linked with a move to Manchester United. White is a center-back who is currently on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion and is playing for Leeds United.
White would not be in the conversation to be an immediate starter alongside Harry Maguire in the Premier League just yet, as playing as a center-back in the Championship and playing as a center-back in the Premier League are two different situations. But due to the potential the 22-year-old has shown at Leeds, he would be an intriguing project for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
In the Championship, White has been one of the best defenders this season. He’s 22, English, and reportedly a tough character — fitting the profile of the type of player targeted by Solskjaer. White is comfortable in one vs one situations, and is also comfortable carrying the ball out from a defensive position. He has won 61% of his duels in the Championship this season, and he averages 12.3 ball recoveries per game. He has also seen some playing time in the holding midfield role where he plays as a sweeper and becomes a third, slightly unorthodox center-back while he is off the ball. As expected in Marcelo Bielsa’s system, White looks right at home playing in a high and aggressive pressing style as well.
White has played most of his senior football either in the lower leagues. The argument that can be made that he has not seen playing time at the top level and Manchester United need a seasoned rotational center-back right now that is ready to perform in the Premier League.
White could be an important acquisition for Manchester United, because it seems set that neither Chris Smalling nor Marcos Rojo will not be returning and the constant injury woes for Eric Bailly are concerning. If Phil Jones decides to follow in Smalling’s footsteps and seek a move in search of regular football, finding a rotational center-back becomes a more pressing issue for United to address this summer.
In terms of the center-back rotation, White would compete immediately with Axel Tuanzebe and Eric Bailly, who have both had injury struggles this season. White does not have any history of injuries, which is another obvious positive. United have had to rely on Phil Jones to step in on multiple occasions this season due to the center-back injury crisis, and Jones — without regular football to keep him sharp — put in some of the worst cameos if his United career. It is time to look for a young and ambitious center-back to fit in that rotation.
White also has the potential to complement Harry Maguire as his partner in the future. While Maguire is aerially dominant and comfortable bringing the ball out of the back, he thrives next to a partner who is good with the ball at his feet. White has shown the potential to create plays by picking defenses apart in the Championship. He likes to sit in pockets of space where he sprays passes across the pitch. He is comfortable in situations where he can play short and long passes across the field. His long passes have given the opportunity for strikers and wingers to attack quickly on the break — a skill that will make him a natural fit at Manchester United.
Can White replace Lindelöf?
As of right now, Ben White would not be a starter at Manchester United. However, he does have the potential to be a starter in the future. United have reportedly recently started to have some doubts regarding Victor Lindelöf’s form. That being said, it does not mean White would take the starting position. Bailly and Tuanzebe still deserve to be higher in the pecking order; they have had experience in the Premier League, and they know what it takes to play at the top level. However, White does have the skillset to play in Solskjaer’s system and he is a highly coachable player. White can contend for the starting spot in the future but as of right now, he is unlikely to be a serious threat to displace Lindelöf.
Ben White is a young center-back who has shown the potential to be a top player. Manchester United need to look for a rotational center-back and White fits the profile in terms of age, skillset, durability, and squad needs. According to one report, Brighton and Hove Albion would ask for around £20 million for the transfer of the in-demand defender. Before White’s value increases any more, Manchester United should swoop in.