The January transfer window is well underway and North End have had an unusually fast start by completing three new loan signings, including highly-rated Irish international, 21-year-old Jayson Molumby. Now a fourth player has been added to their ranks after completing the signing of Ben Whiteman on a 3-and-a-half-year contract.
The imposing central midfielder joins North End from Doncaster for a “significant undisclosed fee” after spending over 3 years in Yorkshire.
Speaking to the club after putting pen to paper, Whiteman said: “I am over the moon to be at this massive football club. There weren’t many sides that I would have moved onto from Doncaster, but this ticked all the boxes and once I spoke to the manager it was a no brainer for me.
“As soon as I had finished with him, I had made my mind up straight away. He spoke very well and spoke very highly of the football club and I can’t wait to start.”
Talking about his new signing, manager Alex Neil said: “We have been after him since the window opened and we have managed to stave off another couple of suitors, who were interested, so it has been great business from us.
“It is well-documented the issues we have in the middle of the pitch in terms of contracts expiring and we need reinforcements and additions in there because we don’t know what the outcome of that is going to be.
“Not only that, but he is a player who has his best years ahead of him. He is only 24 and I am really happy that we have managed to get him in.”
North End’s new number 17 came through Manchester United’s academy and he knows Josh Harrop and Ben Pearson from there which should help him settle in at the club. However, he was let go from United at the age of 16 and moved on to join Sheffield United where he played in the U18 and U21 sides before signing his first professional contract with the club.
He went on to make 8 appearances for Sheffield United before leaving to join Mansfield Town on loan in January 2017 before moving on to Donny on loan at the start of the 17/18 season and after a successful loan spell, he ended up joining Doncaster Rovers permanently, signing a three-and-a-half-year contract.
Whiteman has been a somewhat constant figure in his time at Doncaster having made 135 appearances in the league and also being named the club captain ahead of the 2019/20 season.
So far this season, he has performed exceptionally well and has been one of the most sought after players in League One for the last few transfer windows. Have we got a player on our hands here? All the stats and those who have seen him play, point to a resounding yes.
110 – Ben Whiteman ranks top in League One this season for his number of unique involvements in shot ending sequences (110), showing how vital he is to the contribution in the creation of shots in open play. Strings. #DRFC— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 7, 2021
More on Whiteman below 👇https://t.co/8ohn5NJvef pic.twitter.com/cWBOkvDSfJ
From the little I have seen of him and from conversations I’ve had with my podcast co-host Oli, he seems like he’ll be more of a natural Paul Gallagher replacement. He can strike the ball exceptionally well, his range of passing is brilliant, he takes a mean penalty and at just 24, you have to say he has a very high ceiling.
Oli has put together another superb thread on his twitter with numerous clips of Whiteman, giving North End fans a glimpse into what we could expect to see from Ben while he is with the club.
THREAD: North End have finally signed Ben Whiteman. A very well rounded midfielder who excels in passing, and has a great appreciation of space. Everything he does in underpinned by exquisite technique. Adds so much value to possession. Think Gally but with added mobility. #pnefc— oli (@gorn__) January 14, 2021
Below, Oli highlights Ben’s awareness and his quality technique. What a pass this is.
Again, the basics but progressing the ball past halfway with good technique and good awareness.— oli (@gorn__) January 14, 2021
Common theme is that he sees the game ahead of him, and usually does things in 1 or 2 touches. Reminds me of Gallagher in that he knows the pass before he receives the ball. pic.twitter.com/d5ZNaGmwER
Love this clip, scanning of the game clear before he receives, first touch whilst opening his body, second touch whilst setting, third touch pass. The ball is in the box before you can “the club has finally pulled its finger out” pic.twitter.com/w78mRJcqcd— oli (@gorn__) January 14, 2021
In an unnatural position here but just look at the quality of the cross. As I said, everything he does is underpinned by that technique. Ben from Greater Manchester who came through United’s ranks? We’ve been here before. pic.twitter.com/Xjp11ksj3T— oli (@gorn__) January 14, 2021
Look at his technique striking a ball.
Technique. pic.twitter.com/CMjdeq9wkG— oli (@gorn__) January 14, 2021
The Town End will definitely love this. When we’re allowed back in of course.
Town End will love this. pic.twitter.com/EMiaqX2e8D— oli (@gorn__) January 14, 2021
Make sure you give Oli a follow on Twitter (@Gorn__) if you want to see more of this sort of stuff and make sure you check out the entire thread he’s done about Ben Whiteman. We’ve certainly got a player on our hands here.
The Donny View
We also caught up with Adam, the man behind Doncaster Rovers fan site, Into The Empty Net. You can find them on Twitter here if you would like to give them a follow – @DRFC_ITEN. Here’s what he had to say about our new signing.
Ben Whiteman has been the stand-out player at Doncaster Rovers this season and a true playmaker in every sense of the word. He has fully earned his move to the Championship.
Ben joined Rovers in the summer of 2017 on loan from Sheffield United, and his raw talent as a busy midfielder was evident even then. He has always had the physicality needed to play central midfield but this is by no means his best attribute or even one of his main attributes – he is a ball-player first and foremost and has steadily improved each season since arriving.
He has played under three different managers at the club, with the man who originally signed him Darren Ferguson struggling to find a dedicated role in the team for Ben. He was played in just about every midfield position possible as part of Fergie’s diamond and was inconsistent – he even went in goal for 15 minutes as an emergency in a game against Portsmouth and kept a clean sheet!
It was the arrival of Grant McCann that really pushed him on after we signed him permanently and he became something of an anchor in a fluid 4-3-3 set-up that proved successful for both Whiteman and the team as we made the play-offs. Darren Moore arrived for the 2019/20 season after Grant McCann left to join Hull City, and he made Ben his captain at the young age of 23 which just demonstrates his maturity and temperament, both of which shine through in his performances.
Under Moore, Whiteman has progressed remarkably and was the best passer of the ball in League One last season. His eye for a pass is superb, he moves gracefully around the field and is a player who rarely gives possession away cheaply.
He is strong in the tackle but is better reading the game in order to make interceptions and turn defence into attack quickly – his speed of thought alone is something that I think marks him out as a likely success in the Championship.
Rovers almost exclusively play a 4-2-3-1 formation nowadays with Whiteman in the ‘2’, acting as the player to bring the ball out of defence and distribute to forward areas.
Comfortable playing forward from between the CBs as well. Interesting to see if this continues at North End as we tend to progress play from slightly wider channels. pic.twitter.com/Po2m2H0uLk— oli (@gorn__) January 14, 2021
I often describe him as our ‘Quarterback’ because he reads the field and can either play it short, cross-field through the air or carry it himself into danger areas.
He is a complete playmaker and an individual with every asset you would hope for in such a player, and so long as Preston allow him the freedom to create then I expect him to do very well at that level.
Last season, he was paired with Ben Sheaf (now at Coventry) and the two would often switch roles with one player sitting deeper and the other roving forward to link play into the attacking third – the latter was usually Whiteman’s speciality and he has only become more decisive going forward the longer he has played in that role.
That has borne out in goals this season as he is our top scorer at the time of writing with 8 – and he takes penalties too!
If you want to get the best out of Ben and justify what I believe to be a substantial transfer fee, then simply let him do his thing and make sure the play goes through him. He can be a sitting defensive midfielder but this would be a waste of his talents going forward – let him knit things together while another midfielder (either in a two or three-person set-up) does the dirty work and enjoy the rewards.
Finally, I’d just like to add that Ben has an excellent attitude and desire – he has that determination to be the absolute best that I feel most successful sportspeople have – and truly believe he could play in the Premier League one day if he continues to develop at tthe rate at which he has developed in his time at Doncaster.
Thank you and all the best, Ben.
Thanks to Adam for this and if you want to read more about Ben’s time at Donny, more specifically, last season, check this post out.
Finally, if you haven’t already, why not give this week’s episode of the podcast a listen? It’s a transfer special episode (aside from the 15 minutes discussing the shambles at Wycombe at the weekend) and we talk about the areas we’d look to strengthen, we name some potential targets as well as discuss some possible outgoings too.
Also, we’re on twitter here – @fromthefinney. If you give us a follow, thanks! If you already follow, thanks for the support.
Thanks to Preston North End Football Club for the picture of Ben after signing his contract with us.