He replaced Pontus Jansson at the heart of defence and paired up with captain Liam Cooper and, with goalkeeper Kiko Casilla contributed to the team’s record of only 35 goals conceded throughout the season.
As the season progressed it became clear that White is ready to play in the Premier League, which attracts the attention of many big names. Leeds will definitely struggle to keep him, due to Brighton’s price tag and Graham Potter’s desire of turning him into a first-team choice for his side next season.
This raises a dilemma for Víctor Orta and his recruitment team to find a potential replacement for him next summer. We will use data to identify potential replacements, while also considering factors such as price tag, willingness to move to Leeds and work permit to see who fits Bielsa’s style of play and Leeds’ transfer budget.
Ben White at Leeds in 19/20
To identify the attributes that are needed for a potential replacement, it is necessary to look at White’s style of play and how he is used in Bielsa’s 4-1-2-3 formation.
White has been mostly used as a centre-back this season alongside Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi, but has also been tested as a defensive midfielder on several occasions when Kalvin Phillips was rested or injured.
As a ball-playing centre-back, White is tasked with making direct passes forward towards advanced players and start the team’s attacking situation. He is crucial when the team play out from the back and during the transitioning period as the English youngster tends to use his vision to pick out players who are ready to receive the ball. On the ball, he is calm and confident, two crucial attributes when playing in a high-tempo system like Bielsa’s, when he finds passes or even dribbles forward with the ball.
During the team’s defensive situations, White tends to be active in 1v1s; he can also play as a covering defender given his pace, positioning and good reading of the game, which allows him to make crucial challenges and regain possession.
Besides from knowing how White plays and how he is used in Bielsa’s system, we need to consider that Leeds might want to look for a promising centre-back to play and learn alongside two veterans in Cooper and Berardi. In addition, we should consider the budget available. To sum up, the different criteria that are needed to be taken into accounts when choosing White’s replacements are the player’s age, market value, club valuation, willingness to relocate and work permit.
Let's firstly Swish centre-back Eray Comert from Basel and Lucas Martínez Quarta from River Plate. There are many names that I have taken into consideration, including the likes of Sebastiaan Bornauw (Koln), Sebastian Schonlau (Paderborn), Jack Stephens (Southampton), Jerome Onguene (RB Salzburg) or even Zinho Vanheusden (Standard Liege). While they might be willing to move to Leeds, they are relatively expensive for the club’s budget.
Meanwhile, for Comert, he is valued at €2.3m by Transfermarkt and has two years left on his contract. While he is considered as Basel’s key player, they might let him go for a relatively low fee. He is still a raw talent that Bielsa can develop over time to reach White’s level, but his move is a bit risky given he has never played outside of Switzerland and might need time to adapt to higher level football like in the Premier League.
Comert likes to dive into tackles, which is indicated by his tackling stats of 3.3 tackles P90 (see graph below). He also committed 0.91 fouls and received 0.17 yellow cards P90, which shows he is an aggressive defender. White is opposite to the Swiss centre-back as he tends not to dive into tackles and times his tackles well. He can fit into Bielsa’s aggressive pressing system, but he needs to stay calm during 1v1 situations in order to avoid unnecessary fouls, especially inside the defensive third.
Lucas Martínez is different (see above). His set of stats are more similar to White and he is capable of providing support in the air for the team (he registers 5.2 aerial challenges this season and won 3.2 of them - he's 1.83m). Although Transfermarkt value him at €10m, he is in his last year of his contract and, according to recent rumours, wants to leave River Plate, which will allow Leeds to approach him with a reasonable fee. He also holds an Italian citizenship, according to Transfermarkt, which is a big advantage and allows him to play for Leeds without having to wait for a work permit.
Another name that is on my list of potential signing is Przemyslaw Wisniewski, a young Polish centre-back from Gornik Zabrze. A home-grown product from the club’s academy, he joined up with the first-team squad back in 2018 and is now a key player for the club (he played 37 matches this season across all competitions) while also being a Polish under-21 international. At the value of €450k, he is the lowest valued, which should help Leeds secure a modest fee for his services.
Wisniewski is extremely good in the air registering 5.9 aerial challenges P90 this season, winning 4.1 of them. Given that he is 1.95m tall, taller than both Martínez (1.83m) and White (1.82m), he will become a valuable aerial asset. But, signing him also comes along with a risks as he is inexperienced in playing at a higher level of football, just like Comert. He might be a good signing for Leeds in the long-term, but for the short-term run Orta and Bielsa might look for a centre-back who can be more consistent to help them survive relegation.
Quite similar to Wisniewski in terms of experience in playing at a higher level of football is Ofri Arad, who is currently playing for Maccabi Haifa. He is also 21 and is also a home-grown product of the club’s academy, but he has an advantage of holding a German citizenship (according to Transfermarkt), which makes him available to play without having to apply for a work permit. His value is €750k and his contract lasts until 2024; thus, will force Leeds to pay a decent amount to afford his service, but it won’t be ridiculously expensive.
Arad’s set of stats comes quite close to White, especially in terms of his passing (marked purple and yellow respectively on the above graph) and it is something that catches the eye. This season, the young Israeli centre-back registered 70.2 passes P90 and completed 62.4 of them, a higher passing rate compared to White’s record of 45.3 passes completed from 51.3 attempted. It might be because Maccabi Haifa tend to play out from the back more often, or they prefer short passes during their build-up.
At the same time, Arad also made 0.74 key passes (compared to White’s 0.7), created 0.29 chances (0.21) and have 0.09 assists (0.04) P90 minutes. It comes to show that Arad can actively contribute to the team’s play and it will help him to adapt to Bielsa’s instruction of playing out from the back more easily.
Replacing White is not easy given how crucial he has been to the team’s promotion campaign. Leeds would love to make the deal permanent but his value may be beyond what they can spend.
But stats only show one side of the story. In the second part of the article, I will use video analysis to look at each player’s footage to understand their styles of play and how they will fit into Bielsa’s system if that player secures a move to Elland Road.