Ben White’s “Elegance” Will Help Us.
In a previous article, I discussed the duality of football: scientific at heart and self-presenting as art. While fans were enamoured with Ronaldinho Gaucho’s mesmerizing, limbic control of the ball, close observers would see a very agile dribbler who happens to be 6ft tall and can explode into critical angles without losing his balance like a shorter, stouter player.
Meanwhile, Zinedine Zidane was like two Iniestas stacked on top of one another, a 6ft tall cold-blooded Frenchman moving elegantly like a gentle wind. And then there was Kaka: meaner, stiffer, and more explosive. Kaka could run in a straight line through the middle of the pitch, athletes bouncing off him like rag dolls. He was a bullet, and he was meant to kill.
All of these players were delightful to fans and all of these players, for different reasons, were who they were. These reasons can be explained by physiologists. Who cares? We just want to watch football.
Enter Ben White.
Ben White has been notably described by fans across the section as a ‘Rolls-Royce’ centerback. The way he touches the ball, the swift length of his legs, the caressing punts that puts the ball wherever he wants — fans want to see that. Fans love to see that: a player with an immaculate control of the ball. Where fans see a central defender easy on the eye, coaches see a player who can help them control and determine the rhythm of a game. From finding advanced midfielders between the lines to breaking a press by dribbling, the quintessential modern centerback is important to the playing scheme of the best teams in the world.
Instead of treating the ball like a hot potato, defenders like Ben White treat the ball like a son, an extension of them. The ball, in return, loves them back. Ben White is one of the most elegant defenders in the modern game. His passing and ball-carrying ability are of a very high level such that Marco Bielsa, who famously wants to play with 11 midfielders, was ready to break the budget for him after having him on loan for a season.
Mikel Arteta’s scheme, similar to the best clubs in the world, is heavily reliant on controlled possession and building play from the back. Last season, we witnessed a few self-inflicted calamities when we tried to play out from the back. In fact, it was an eyesore at times. But when it worked, like against Manchester City in the FA Cup or against Liverpool in the Community Shield, it worked like magic: we almost always score.
Tilting the spectrum from eyesore to magic, from Stoke City to Man City, is why we got Ben White for a premium price. His ball-playing abilities are rare and needed for the game we want to play, for the future we want to reach. His so-called elegance is a tactical weapon.
And he is now an Arsenal player…