Ian Wright told TV viewers Ben White is too handsome to be a centre-back.

Albion’s academy director John Morling smiled when he was told that.

He has heard it before.

He also knows the defender the Seagulls picked up when Southampton let him go as a 16-year-old has done plenty of ugly stuff on his rise to the Premier League and Euro 2020.

He has put his head in among the boots a few times. Slid through the mud and into plenty of tough challenges.

Crucially, he has worked hard on the areas of the game where he was less talented when he arrived at the club.

Morling believes the not-so-pretty graft out on loan and with the academy is paying off.

Getting him noticed. And for more than what he looks like.

“Ian wouldn’t be the first person to say that,” Morling said of Wright’s well-meaning, light-hearted observation.

“He doesn’t look like your traditional, stereotypical centre-half but he’s a winner.

“He’s a good player. He can defend. You’d want him in your team. He can play out, he’s technically good.

“He’s got a great attitude so I wouldn’t worry about those bits.”

A few pieces have fallen into place for White to be called in for this particular tournament.

The increase in squad size to 26. The one-year delay due to Covid.

And, of course, injury for Trent Alexander-Arnold.

But the consensus of opinion seems to be that White would have made it at some stage, even if it were not the competition which is about to criss-cross Europe.

Albion knew they would sign White when he went through the motions of a “trial” after his release by Saints.

But Morling said: “He still had a lot to do, like most kids do.

“We said we would take a chance and everyone agreed we should sign him.

“He was technically good but he’s now technically VERY good.

“I think his strengths are stronger and his weaknesses are better than what they were, which is why he is where he is now.

“A lot of that comes from his own attitude and his willingness to do well and do the right things off the pitch.

“Do his extras. Work with people after training.

“You can’t get to where he’s got to without doing that.

“You have got to be as professional off the pitch as you are on it.

“I think that’s a given in this day and age.

“All players will have their own development plans.

“From a defending point of view, it’s one-on-one defending, working as a unit, defending crosses, defending set-pieces, attacking set-pieces, in possession in terms of when to come out with it, when not to come out with it.

“Short passing, long passing, diagonals.

“There is a lot of stuff you would want a defender to be good at and the detail and the level of understanding you need for that keeps going up and up.

“You also do your own work on the teams you are playing against.

“You learn as much as you can about who you’re playing against, the shape you’re playing in.

“He’s a student of the game.

“He wants to learn, he wants to get the most out of his body from strength and conditioning and the nutrition point of view.”

Morling does not hesitate when asked for a relative weakness which White had to work on.

He replied: “Aerially. Going to Newport was a big plus for him.

“He learnt to be more dominant in the air.

“But also, in that first loan, he learnt about living away from home for the first time and everything that goes with that.

“Preparing your food, preparing for training and games.

“Sleep. What you do in your down time.

“It’s important to keep yourself occupied but not to use too much energy.

“All that sort of stuff that he would now be very professional at.

“You’d think everyone does that but they don’t.

“Wherever you go you will always have staff who will be prepared to work as much as you want to work.

“If you want to do extras, they will do as much as they can with you.

“Some players take that and some don’t.

“Some do a bit, some do a lot and some do it religiously.


“Some players will get the best they can and reach their potential, whatever that might be.”

Morling believes that attitude and desire have made the difference for White.


He added: “When you get to 17 or 18, we always say at the academy that it’s all above the shoulders.

“Everyone is fit, everyone can play at a certain level.

“It’s what you do with it that counts.”

White joins Robert Sanchez as Albion academy graduates who are heading to the Euros.

Seeing such players progress means a lot to the many staff members who have played a part in the process.

Morling said: “They are things that money can’t buy.

“If you work in player development, they are the things that are worth their weight in gold. It’s a really nice feeling for myself and all the staff.

“It’s a team effort and there are lots of people involved from lots of different ages, lots of different departments - recruitment, scouting, strength and conditioning, medical, analysis - and it gives them such a lift.

“The 18s and 23s are off at the moment and they will come back in with a lift.

“They will be watching the Euros more intently than they would have been and hoping Ben gets on.

“It means a hell of a lot to everyone.

“And all the parents of all the players at the squad, whether they are nine or 20, it means a massive amount to them.

“We will be watching and hopefully he might get a few minutes.”