Declan Rice aims to convince Arsenal teammate White to end England exile

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Declan Rice has said Arsenal’s ­England contingent are on a mission to convince Ben White to rethink his refusal to play for his country.

Gareth Southgate wanted to name White in his squad for this month’s friendlies against Brazil and ­Belgium, only for the versatile defender to make clear he did not want to be ­considered for selection. It remains to be seen whether the 26-year-old, who has enjoyed an outstanding season at club level, can be persuaded to ease England’s defensive crisis by coming out of international exile.

White has not played for ­England since his early departure from the 2022 World Cup and there have been suggestions that his reticence to return to the fold stems from a disagreement with Southgate’s No 2, Steve Holland. Southgate, who is to hand Kobbie Mainoo a first start, has denied those claims.

England’s head coach could clearly have made good use of White ­during this camp. Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Kyle Walker are injured, ­leaving Southgate without three of his favoured back four, and several other defenders are out. The door is still open for White and he will be under pressure from Aaron ­Ramsdale, Bukayo Saka and Rice when the ­quartet are reunited at Arsenal after the international break.

“He’s a really unique player because he can play three positions,” Rice said. “In tournaments that’s so key. He can play centre-back, he can play right-back, he can play inverted full-back. When I get back I can have a conversation with him and see the ins and outs and see what he thinks. I would love him to come. I think Bukayo would. I think Aaron ­Ramsdale would. I think we’re all going to be on him when we get back. Hopefully he can change his mind.”

Kobbie Mainoo will play for England while Cole Palmer could feature against Belgium. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Rice, who against Belgium on Tuesday will mark his 50th cap by captaining England for the first time, indicated that Southgate had spoken to White since shedding light on the situation at his squad announcement this month. The midfielder also backed White to deal with criticism of his position.

“I’m not concerned,” Rice said. “I think the biggest thing is it’s Ben’s life, it’s Ben’s decision. Obviously people are going to have opinions, people are going to write stuff, but he’s content with his decision. We had a few days off before we came here so I’m sure Gareth and him spoke in that period. I don’t know the ins and outs of it. But all I can say is that I would love him to be here. Playing against him and now playing with him, seeing how he is, he is very quiet, keeps himself to himself, but when he’s on the pitch he’d do anything for his team to win.”

Rice’s experience at ­international level will stand out when an experimental England side look to bounce back from losing 1-0 to Brazil. Jordan Henderson and Cole Palmer are back from injury, although Southgate was unsure whether either is ready for 90 minutes. ­Jarrad ­Branthwaite and Lewis Dunk are competing for spots in central defence, Ezri Konsa could replace Walker at right-back and the ­versatile defender Joe Gomez is ­hoping for a start.

Harry Kane’s absence will give Ivan Toney a chance to push his claim for a spot in the Euro 2024 squad when the Brentford striker starts for the first time. Plenty of players will be under the spotlight – Jarrod Bowen and Marcus Rashford will hope for starts on the flanks – and Southgate needs to find the right balance in midfield.

Having started Conor Gallagher with Rice and Jude Bellingham against Brazil, Southgate has turned to Mainoo. Southgate, who gave the midfielder his debut as a substitute against Brazil, has been impressed with the 18-year-old in training.

“He seems very calm,” he said. “Talking to him tactically, he seems able to take all those concepts on. You can see his comfort with the ball and receiving in tight areas. There are a lot of steps being taken in a very short period of time.”

Southgate could move ­Bellingham into a deep role and start James Maddison. He was reluctant to hype Mainoo, pointing out central midfield is a nuanced role. “Kobbie is still developing,” he said. “In terms of progress into our squad he is ­benefiting because we are not as rich in resources in that area. We are really happy to see how he has dealt with training. But I am mindful that we have to look after him and make sure his development is at the right speed.”

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