BEN WHITE had to think outside the box this week to pay tribute to the club that set him on the course to Premier League stardom.
With shirt-swapping currently banned due to Covid-19, the England hopeful brought a few signed Brighton shirts in carrier bags when heading back to Newport on Sunday.
Ben White made a touching gesture to his old club Newport last weekCredit: Rex Features
He gave them to his old County team-mates and the kit man after Albion’s FA Cup win, in honour of what they did for him there three years ago in what was his first loan.
It showed how White has not forgotten those who helped him become one of the top flight’s hottest properties.
Exiles boss Michael Flynn told SunSport: “It was an unbelievable gesture. You want to see people like that go all the way and I’m sure he will.”
White, 23, has certainly come a long way since being farmed out to League Two County, where he won the Player of the Year award for the 2017-18 season.
He impressed with subsequent loans to Peterborough and then Leeds, where he won the Championship and whom he faces this afternoon with the Seagulls.
He is now on the radar of Liverpool and Manchester United, while Gareth Southgate will no doubt be keeping an eye on his progress too.
And given the stock the England boss puts on having a good character, he will surely be impressed with what he hears about the ball-playing centre-back.
Flynn beamed: “He’s the kind of person you’d want your daughter to come with.
“He’s been highly thought of from a young age and there are lots of players who get carried away with that.
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“They believe the hype, take their foot off the gas and maybe get caught up with other things.
“But Ben is nothing like that. He’s such a good professional and very level-headed.”
White quickly adapted to the physicality of regular men’s football at Newport.
Flynn remembers playing Wycombe five games into the season and White going up for a 50-50 with ex-Brighton skipper and powerhouse Adam El-Abd.
White won it and then sprayed a 60-yard diagonal pass out wide and from that moment, Flynn knew the then teenager would be able to handle himself.
The centre-back showed off his technical ability at Leeds last year where he played every single game of their Championship-winning campaign, thriving under Marcelo Bielsa.
Leeds were desperate to sign him permanently in the summer but had three bids rejected as Brighton clung onto one of the prized assets.
Albion chief Graham Potter said: “Ben’s very respectful of how they helped him and progressed his career because it was a fantastic time for him.
“But he’s our player now and I’m sure he would like to get the points against them.”
Leeds legend Eddie Gray watched White every week last term in his role as co-commentator for LUTV.
The defender won Newport’s Player of the Year award in 2018Credit: Getty
Ben White helped Leeds to win promotion during his loan spell last seasonCredit: Getty
And while Gray knows the defender has a long way to go to emulate the likes of Jon Woodgate and Rio Ferdinand, the Scot does see some similarities with the former.
The two-time First Division title winner, 72, said: “Ben would never go to ground a lot to make challenges and Woodgate was like that.
“He’s as good as Woodgate on the ball when he comes out from the back and plays people in.
“I think Ben could play in a side like Man City or Liverpool, teams that like to play out from the back and like to play. That’s Ben’s type of game.”
Due to his versatility and Brighton’s injury problems, White has played in midfield and at full-back at times this season.
But Gray is certain centre-back is the Poole lad’s long-term position and where Southgate will play him if he hands White a first call-up.
For Flynn, it is a matter of when, not if.
The former Wigan midfielder, 40, added: “I said as soon as I saw him that he would play at the highest level and he would represent England. He’s that good.
“I’ve only said that about one other player who I played with and that was Leighton Baines.”
You can put your shirt on Flynn being proved right about White.
Brighton’s Ben White shows off his football skills on the training pitch More