Ben White may only have ever played for Brighton on two occasions, but the Premier League club face an uphill battle to keep hold of one of their brightest young prospects this transfer window.
The 22-year-old spent last season on-loan at Leeds United, where he was instrumental in helping Marcelo Bielsa’s side achieve promotion back into the top tier of English football as Championship winners.
His ball-playing skills from centre-half are very much in vogue and that has led to speculation linking the young Englishman with potential moves to Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham.
However, Leeds’ interest in bringing him back to Elland Road is not based on hearsay – the newly promoted outfit are prepared to obliterate their transfer record in order to get him on their books on a permanent basis for the upcoming season.
A third bid of up to £35million will reportedly be rejected this week by Brighton, who are said to value White at £50m despite his last appearance coming for the club in a League Cup game in the 2016-17 season.
The Seagulls are in a strong position whereby they can either cash in on the frenzied interest, or retain a player some have tipped to be an England star of the future.
“I’d love to see Leeds sign him, he was their player of the year last season and I rate him very, very highly,” former Leeds goalkeeper Paul Robinson told bookmakers.co.uk.
“He’s a great defender, reads the game well and he’s also a ball-playing centre-half. He played half a dozen games in that holding midfield role last year when Kalvin Phillips was out and he’s not afraid to come out of defence with the ball at his feet.
‘White For England’
“He’s the all-round package and he’s perfect for Leeds and even for England – I think an international call-up is on the horizon, so I’m not surprised at all that he has potential suitors from the top six in the Premier League.”
Despite the rumoured interest from the top end of the table, Leeds remain 10/11 favourites for his signature, with Liverpool a distant 4/1 in the Ben White transfer betting markets.
However, the reality of the situation is that Leeds may have to part with almost half of their summer transfer kitty if they are to land their top target, even if no other clubs get involved in the bidding.
“It was always going to be tough for Leeds to regain his signature, as much as I’d love them to, but it will be equally difficult for Brighton to hold on to him now more clubs are aware of his potential,” added Robinson.
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“He can command a high price tag. When we see the likes of Nathan Ake going for £41m to Manchester City, you can only imagine what Brighton are thinking and what they expect for White.
“Ok, the price usually escalates when Man City are involved because everyone knows they have the money to pay a premium price, but if Ake is worth £41m then White has got to be up there with a similar sort of price tag.”
The longer the White saga rolls on, the longer Leeds look a light at the heart of their defence, and with the next Premier League season due to begin in less than a month, the club have their work cut out to start identifying a Plan B.
“It’s going to be a difficult hole for Leeds to fill,” said Robinson. “I think they should exhaust every option with White first because he’s fitted in so well under Bielsa, but they’ve also got to replace Gaetano Berardi who got injured at the end of last season and is out of contract and leaving soon anyway.
‘At Least Two Signings’
“Either way, it’s a position where they’re going to need at least two new signings, whether one of them is White or not, so this is where Victor Orta [Leeds Director of Football] and his scouting network are going to have to do their homework and get targets lined up.
“They’ve said they’ve got between £75-100m to spend, and centre-half is a position where they’re going to have to spend a large portion of that because they have to get it right, but Ben White has to be the number one target.”
Germany international Robin Koch has been mooted as a potential target while former Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford has suggested that John Stones may be a useful alternative having lost his starting berth at Manchester City.
Robinson, however, is not so sure the signing of Stones would quite work out at Elland Road.
He said: “He’s clearly not in favour at Manchester City at the moment and with the way Bielsa likes to play – with centre-halves having to be comfortable with the ball at their feet – and he certainly fits that criteria.
“But in the Championship Leeds conceded too many goals through defenders taking risks – John Stones is a player who takes too many chances and gets caught too often.
“Whether that would change under Bielsa, who is great at developing players as we’ve seen with Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper, would be an interesting one.”
In the betting on Stones’ future, Leeds are rank outsiders at 16/1 to sign the Barnsley-born defender this transfer window, with West Ham and Chelsea leading the odds at 4/1 apiece.