May 24 and uncapped defender Ben White was a mammoth 50/1 to start England’s first match at Euro 2020 against Croatia. Fast-forward two weeks and suddenly the Brighton centre-back is 5/4 to be in the starting XI.
The 23-year-old is certainly fortunate to get his place. Not named in Gareth Southgate’s initial 23-man squad, White is a replacement for the injured right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, who hobbled off with a knock in England’s friendly against Austria at the start of June.
After impressing in the Three Lions’ two warm-up fixtures this month, White got the call as first reserve ahead of midfielders Jesse Lingard and James Ward-Prowse. Incredibly, with regular Harry Maguire still on the road to recovery, he’s now almost evens to make the starting XI in England’s opener.
In late May, White was nothing more than an outsider. He’d had a fantastic season at Brighton, playing almost every minute as the Seagulls conceded just 46 Premier League goals, a figure comparable to Manchester United (44), Tottenham (45) and Leicester (50).
But with no England caps, the former Leeds man was the hipster’s choice. Stones’ spot was secure, Maguire was being touted as fit enough to play in the Europa League final, and Southgate was thought to favour Everton’s Ben Godfrey and Wolves’ Conor Coady.
How things would change...
England’s provisional 33-man squad was announced on May 25. It wasn’t a surprise White’s name appeared proudly on the list, but most believed he’d soon be one of seven cut on June 1.
Sure, his stats were good and there had been rumours of a switch to either Liverpool or Manchester United in January, but White didn’t have the tournament experience and guile needed for the European Championship.
Besides, we still had Stones, Maguire, Godfrey and Coady ahead of him. Even Kyle Walker could put in a shift at right centre-half if we played with a back-three.
He was there for the experience and nothing more. One for the future.
Ben White’s odds shortened ever so slightly the day before England’s final squad was announced.
Maybe it was the realisation that Maguire wasn’t as far along the recovery track as once assumed.
Maybe people were Googling “Who is Ben White?” and were seeing “Welcome to Manchester City: 1080p HD” videos on YouTube. (White’s showreel is a pretty good one. His passing statistics especially are considerably high for a defender. This boy has even played a couple of Premier League games in midfield).
Whether more people were taking a punt on him or not, White’s odds dipped for 24 hours before the news broke that he hadn’t made the squad. That’s when the market stopped altogether.
Southgate threw a curveball during England’s two warm-up matches in June, giving minutes to the players he’d decided not to pick.
White came on for his international debut in the 71st minute of England’s friendly with Austria on June 2. He was solid if not spectacular, clearing a ball off the line late on.
The fifth Brighton player to win an England cap was then given a full 90 against Romania on June 6. He looked assured and efficient alongside Tyrone Mings, silently impressing in a largely lifeless affair.
The following day it was announced he’d been the lucky one to replace Alexander-Arnold. A last, last minute edition to the squad.
Attention turns to the group stages. Stones looks certain to be starting at 1/20. Maguire, still seemingly facing a fitness battle, and Coady, an unused substitute against Romania, are 9/4 and 7/4 with Sky Bet respectively.
The final centre-back spot seems to be a straight fight between White (5/4) and Mings (11/10). In the space of two weeks, the one-time 50/1 outsider is a possible starter.