Euro 2020 England vs Croatia: Ben White's rise has been 10 careful years in the making

It’s been an impossible task to keep the smile from Ben White’s face this week as he admits his inclusion to the England set-up was “surreal.”

The Brighton defender was drafted into England’s 26-man Euro squad to replace the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold and is in contention to face Croatia in England’s Group D opener this Sunday.

“It’s been very surreal,” said White who was selected ahead of Ben Godfrey, James Ward-Prowse, Jesse Lingard and Ollie Watkins as the player to step in from the standby list.

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“Obviously I didn’t think this was going to be happening, I thought I was going to be somewhere hot in Portugal or somewhere like that.”

Brighton's Ben White and Manchester City's Phil Foden are in contention to play for England against Croatia this Sunday

He made his Three Lions debut off the bench against Austria last week and earned his first start in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Romania.

Now the 23-year-old will be aiming to feature in the finals, having been surprised by his initial inclusion in Southgate’s plans. “It is mind-blowing really. Even the first bit being in the 33-man squad was enough for me so to make it to the final squad was unbelievable.

“I got a call from someone at Brighton telling me he was going to call me so I just waited for the call – it is something I have never felt before. News like that doesn’t usually come around so I was speechless really and it felt amazing.”

White said his mum was the first person he told after the call-up. “I gave her a ring, straight away and she was crying on the phone again.

“It was obviously an unbelievable moment. She’s so happy for me and she’s seen how hard I’ve worked, and for it to pay off now is all that she wants to see.”

White’s rapid rise may have caught many outside of Brighton by surprise.

“I wasn’t made last year,” he added. “I think I’ve worked hard for 10 years and it doesn’t suddenly just come in a year and you’re doing well.”

Former Liverpol winger and England international John Barnes believes White’s versatility secured him his place.

“Ben White’s selection for the England squad in place of Trent Alexander-Arnold was no surprise at all. Jesse Lingard has had a fantastic season, and so has James Ward-Prowse, but what Gareth Southgate is looking for is versatility.

“It’s a bit of a tell-tale sign in terms of Gareth’s tenure, whereby he isn’t sure whether he’s going to play three at the back, four at the back, two or three in midfield. Therefore, you need versatile players who, if you decide to change your system, are able to adapt to that.

“Ben White can play as a holding midfield player, in a back four, or as one of three centre-backs. That versatility probably put him ahead of players who might have had a better season than him.

“Look at the versatility Reece James and Kyle Walker have, they can play in a back three, a back four or at wing-back. Gareth has enough attacking midfield players to cope with any formation, but in defenders he’s looking for versatility.”

John Barnes was speaking to