EPL

Gareth Southgate defends going public with Ben White’s England rejection

By Sports Desk March 14, 2024

Gareth Southgate is aware Ben White could face a backlash after he made himself unavailable for England duty but felt it was “impossible” to conceal the reason behind Thursday’s omission.

White has starred for Premier League leaders Arsenal this season and was set to be part of this month’s 25-man squad for the friendlies with Brazil and Belgium.

However, Arsenal sporting director Edu informed John McDermott, technical director at the Football Association, last week that White does not want to be currently considered for England squads, having not been called-up since he was sent home early from the 2022 World Cup.

White left Qatar for what the Football Association called “personal reasons” but reports later emerged of an alleged bust-up with England assistant Steve Holland.

Southgate denied any such fall-out on Thursday, although White’s absence from a squad ravaged by injuries has already sparked debate over the future international prospects of the versatile defender.

“John McDermott had a call from Edu last week to say that Ben didn’t want to be considered for England squads at this time. For me, that’s a great shame,” Southgate reflected.

“For me, England was the pinnacle. Did I enjoy every moment with England? No. Were there moments where you thought ‘here we go, into the lions’ den’ if you like, literally? Yes, but I always wanted to challenge myself and test myself.

“And the things I regret in my life are the things that I’ve not had a go at, not the things that I’ve failed at. For me, it was always the ultimate, but, I wasn’t at a club going for the league title, or in the last couple of rounds of the Champions League. I can’t speculate what’s behind it.

“We have to respect that. There’s clearly a reason, but I don’t know the full reason.

“As I’ve said, in these situations I’ve tried to protect players. Clearly that is impossible at this point because the timing of asking to come off the long-list, and the fact that I don’t have huge credibility if I didn’t pick him on form!

“I don’t think it would be right not to state the situation we’re in. We’ve explained to Arsenal we were going to do that and if you make a decision like that, you do have to stand by it.

“But like I say, I want to keep the door open. I don’t want there to be a backlash. I understand that we’re in a situation where that could happen, but I believe he’s announced he’s signing a new contract, so there’s no question he’s got the love of the Arsenal fans.

“For me, the shame is that he’s a player I like. I can see his ability is obvious. I would have liked to have picked him, but it’s not an option that’s open to me.

“I completely respect it. The door for me is completely open. Look, we have to say that’s unlikely now for the Euros because of the situation this month. But moving forward, I would hope that he feels differently about it.”

Southgate handed White his England debut against Austria in June 2021, then drafted him into the squad for that summer’s rearranged Euros as replacement for the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold. The defender did not make an appearance in the run to the final, nor did he play a minute at the World Cup in Qatar.

The bombshell news that White does not want to add to his four England caps came hours after the announcement that he had signed a new and improved contract at the Emirates Stadium.

The 26-year-old agreed a new four-year deal, with the option for a further 12 months, the PA news agency understands, having featured in every Premier League game this term.

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