Ben White: ‘After practice the last thing I want to do is watch football’ | World Cup 2022
Ben White didn’t watch much football growing up in Dorset. It was never aired around the house, his parents were just not interested. Does he have any memories of the World Cup? “Not that sticking out,” says the Arsenal and England defender. And you won’t find him pitching a game on a night these days, either.
“To sit down and watch a 90 minute game after training all day and having had four or five football meetings…the last thing I want to do is watch more football,” says -he.
On the day Gianni Infantino sparked outrage and astonishment, as the stakes around this World Cup pounded like a migraine and the footballing pressure mounted ahead of the big kick-off, White is the antidote.
Sitting in a tent at England’s training base and speaking in a low voice, he spoke of his easygoing nature and how it helped him rise to the top, deal with rejection and upheaval season after season. It was hard not to link him to an upbringing devoid of tribalism and football obsession, although his father Barry’s genes were also clearly at work.
“My old man is so laid back it’s ridiculous,” White says. “He would just go to work, a normal guy, a gardener, and he has no passion for any sport. When I got called up for the World Cup squad, he said, ‘Bravo.’ It was like he knew it was going to happen and it wasn’t a surprise to him. My mom is the opposite, so I think I found the balance between them.
“My temper is one of the main reasons I am where I am. I don’t go too high or too low. I learned by being freed [by Southampton at 16]. It was a shitty day but I didn’t cry. It was on to the next thing and that’s how it is after a game if you haven’t played so well. After my first for Arsenal against Brentford [at the start of last season] I was hammered. Now they all praise me.
White remembers cycling to Bournemouth beach as a child to watch the World Cups on the big screen, but he always preferred to play to himself, taking walks in his garden; always active, carefree. “I don’t look too far ahead,” he says. “I am an everyday person. I wake up, take care of this day and try to have the best ever. I am not someone who has something planned in normal life. If I want to go to dinner somewhere during the day, I will.
“I didn’t think about the World Cup at all until it was close. If you’re so preoccupied with something, it normally doesn’t happen. Things will be what they will be and you take care of them when they come.
It would be a mistake to think that White doesn’t have a rare inner steel, quiet self-assurance, and that’s suddenly apparent when he talks about how good he feels about his life, which served as a springboard for his Arsenal’s excellent form.
In each of the last five seasons he has played for a different club, with loans from Brighton to play in League Two for Newport in 2017-18, then League One for Peterborough and, after that, for Leeds in the Championship , where he got a promotion. He remained at Brighton in the Premier League in 2020-21 before joining Arsenal for £50million.
“Coming to League 2,” says White. “You go to a club and they’re like, ‘Who is this guy?’ Then I go to break the season and get the player of the season Then I go to a Ligue 1 club and the same thing happens Then I go to Leeds nobody knows who I am and I play every minute I believe in myself, I don’t think I did it the easy way.
White says he felt the benefit of being “back to back at a club” for the first time in his senior career. Repurposed by Mikel Arteta, as a right-back, the adaptation was seamless; the memory of the Brentford game and his initial struggles to win Arsenal’s support faded.
“Looking back at Brentford, I didn’t do it badly,” White said. “I won half the duels and people said I was bullied. It’s an opinion and they change a lot. It’s always like that and they [the pundits] are paid for an opinion. Sometimes it sucks. »
White is on the fringes of the England squad but he offers an option as a right-back, centre-half and right-back three. “At Arsenal we build in three, so I play in central defense every week, but on some occasions I fly forward,” he said.
Could the Whites emerge later in the tournament? It’s at the top of its game and ready, although it will keep it cool between training sessions. How does he deal with the boredom of the camp? “Sunbathing,” he replies. “I sunbathed this morning. There is not much to do. You rest and there are recovery things to do. Go to bed early and watch a movie. It’s very nice around the pool. Very relaxing.”