Ben White should not be criticised for declining to play for England

Sport

To many people, Ben White has committed the cardinal sin. England manager Gareth Southgate, told the gathered media at his latest squad announcement that the Arsenal defender made it clear he didn’t want to be involved.

Fans may think that White should know how lucky he is to represent this country, but the truth is this sort of thing may happen more commonly in the future. With fixture congestion constantly in the football discourse, perhaps it is a wonder that this sort of thing hasn’t happened more often already.

Given that the friendlies with Brazil and Italy Are the last chance to impress before the Euros squad is announced, White has all but guaranteed he will not take part in Germany. Southgate was at pains to say that this wasn’t his choice, and he would’ve picked him because of his form for the Gunners this season, but there is history here, after White went home early from the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

There were reports of an argument with coach Steve Holland, which Southgate vehemently denied being a factor in the current situation. It is easy to paint White in a certain way here, perhaps this is an opportunity to review how international football is viewed of across the world.

Almost universally, these international breaks are despised by fans who want to concentrate on the club’s form especially at this point in the season when titles are at stake. Why then, is White being criticised for his stance when Arsenal are in the heat of a Premier League chase with Liverpool and Manchester City? Especially when people don’t really know, the full reason why this is occurred.

It is easy leap to make that White is being ungrateful or arrogant here, but the truth is perhaps the international game is losing its appeal, particularly throughout the season when there’s ample opportunity for rest. It is unlikely that White, knowing he will not have the win an international trophy in the summer, has taken this step without inner conflict, but if fans prefer to watch club football, players shouldn’t have to automatically step up for England if they don’t want to. Most players do, but it shouldn’t be the only acceptable course.

White is also on record saying he isn’t a huge football fan. He probably prefers the idea of time off.

It’s nothing new, either. We’ve seen Paul Scholes and Alan Shearer retire early because of lacking enjoyment and wanting to preserve fitness respectively. It should also be noted that White’s inclusion has less about his form, which has been fantastic this season, and more about the lack of available right-backs, with Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James both missing through injury. White has never been in England regular, and like Raheem Sterling, would probably have dropped out of most peoples consciousness regarding a place in the squad were everyone fit.

Southgate position on this is also understandable. It was clear from his demeanour in the press conference, just how aware he is about the perception of him and his squad section. He was keen to address the White situation understanding that people would question why he wasn’t selected given the circumstances.

It is testament to Southgates work in creating a harmonious environment players want to play in, that White is being discussed on this level. The togetherness of the team is so clear and overall fans have reconnected with the players since Southgate took over in 2016 after an embarrassing one game reign for Sam Allardyce and a disastrous Euro campaign under Roy Hodgson. White has become the only contentious issue in the eight years since.

This is the best pool of players at England’s disposal since the since Southgate’s playing days. But the ‘golden generation’, which underachieved massively in not winning anything did not get along, and that was part of its downfall. Players like Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have gone on record to say they struggled to connect because of club rivalries. There are also numerous reports from that time saying players didn’t want to join up, but did it but did so anyway. Surely it is better that players who want to play for England are happy to do so and not just doing it because they are supposed to, and players, who don’t open and honest about it.

Nobody owes the country anything blindly, let alone footballers. It is understandable. This has become a story because of how rare it is, but England will move on without Ben White and Ben White can move on without England.

If international football is largely seen as a nuisance and a distraction, players should not be vilified for taking this kind of action.

Author: Mark Hayes