The worlds ten most expensive centre backs are as follows.
1 – Harry Maguire £78 million
2 – Matthijs de Ligt £77 million
3 – Virgil van Dijk £76 million
4 – Lucas Hernandez £68 million
5 – Rúben Dias £65 million
6 – Aymeric Laporte – £57 million
7 – Ben White £50 million
8 – David Luiz £50 million
9 – John Stones £48 million
10 – Éder Militão £43 million
With Premier League sides required to submit their twenty five man playing squads soon, the requirement to have eight homegrown players has now impacted the market, dramatically. Where many clubs are filled to the brim with moderately priced foreign imports, to have a good homegrown player to sell, can give teams a strong hand to play in negotiations. The seventeen non homegrown players rule, will now make up the vast majority of leagues first team squads. Where academy players are often shipped off on loan, to see a player succeed through the ranks to the first is becoming very rare.
When Mikel Arteta took over the reigns at Arsenal, there was much to do. Much like with the post Sir Alex Ferguson era, the aftermath of Arsene Wenger’s historical Arsenal tenure has been tricky. Huge contracts have been handed out, paid off, and run down in this period of change at the Emirates. The first team squad that has seen much change, leaving clear needs in both quality and homegrown security. The likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain & Aaron Ramsey leaving, has left the need for homegrown regeneration a a must this summer.
The current homegrown players (overage & thus applicable) that can be identified as first team players are as follows;
These seven names consist of no one actually established, therefore the need to recruit this summer became apparent. It could also be argued that some will leave, therefore Arsenals transfer plans were always pointed in one direction. Selling teams would have been well aware of this, and with homegrown quality comes a high cost. The premium for homegrown talent within the Premier League, has seen some truly staggering fees mentioned this summer. £160 million for Harry Kane, Jack Grealish for £100 million, Jadon Sancho for £72 million and now £50 million for Ben White.
The signing of Ben White represents a required step in order to enhance defensive quality, numbers and assist in meeting the homegrown quota. The central defender being signed from Brighton for this fee represents where the market sits, and the premium that teams can now place on the head of such a player. With very limited international experience and only the one season of Premier League football, it is a gamble which Sporting Director Edu has placed great faith in.
Ben White is a very talented footballer, well assured on the ball and classy in progressing play from the back. The transfer is similar in many ways to when Manchester City invested heavily in Everton’s John Stones. With a team of City’s level and surrounding quality, John Stones was able to navigate his way into the first team picture without much need for all out defending. His rise has been steady, and Pep Guardiola has certainly improved upon the defensive weaknesses that were once apparent. In playing next to the likes of Vincent Kompany & behind Fernandinho, it was a clear route to success for Stones.
With Arsenal, neither the level nor the surrounding quality are a match for City then, or now. The incoming Ben White stood out in the 2019/20 season on loan at Leeds, with the brilliant Marcelo Bielsa at the helm. Last summer represented a curious period that may have seen Brighton cash in on their returning asset, but for the financial effects of the pandemic. Last season at Brighton saw him playing as the right sided defender in a back three. Brighton showed good progress in their play and never looked in danger of relegation, with Ben White looking assured enough to earn a late call up to the England squad.
When Trent Alexander Arnold was injured in the build up to the recent European Championships, the four right backs was swiftly reduced to three, leading to Ben White winning the final spot in the squad. His ability and experience in a back three was surely a sign of pure cover for Kyle Walker, and his valuation would have seen another creep upwards. The transfer never looked in doubt, with Arsenal facing no competition for his signature, something that would have pleased Edu, but perhaps point to Ben White’s current stature.
At Brighton, the defensive leader and standout centre back was Lewis Dunk, an imposing and commanding leader in the mould of Harry Maguire. With Ben White nailing down the right hand side of the three, we may see Arteta look to replicate this system, with White not having played in a back four since he left Leeds. His stint at Elland Road is an outdated measuring stick, given the vast difference in quality from the Premier League to the Championship, and the entire season that has since passed. His suitability may then point to a continued use of the back three, next season for Arsenal.
Despite his before-mentioned qualities as a ball playing defender, there are certain limitations in White’s actual defensive game. He is neither dominant aerially or an aggressive front foot defender. Much of his defensive skill set is based upon anticipation, good awareness and solid recovery pace. The outside position of a back three often sees a converted full back excelling, with certain key attributes and familiarity in the two positions. Kyle Walker, César Azpilicueta and even Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney have excelled in this spot, with parallels to Ben Whites potential.
This season is now a critical step in Mikel Arteta’s tenure as Arsenal boss, with patience often limited in the fan base. His impact seems to come in waves, with tactical alterations both good and bad in equal measure. To see their North London rivals Spurs finish above them once more, would surely not be accepted if their own talisman, Harry Kane, were to depart.
Whether or not Ben White can make that huge step from potential to elite, remains to be seen. The talent is unquestionable, and despite the high price tag, it may be good business, long term. Ben White has much to prove, and much to live up to as one of the worlds most expensive defenders. From the outset, Mikel Arteta will meet to extract that quality from Ben White, if he is to push the Gunners back into the top tier of the league.