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Ball keen to deliver young gems to Sunderland
AFTER eight years working with academy players and plenty more establishing himself as a club great, Kevin Ball is looking forward to his latest challenge at his beloved Sunderland.
The former Black Cats captain, who led the team through two promotion campaigns during 389 appearances for the club, is the main beneficiary of Steve Bruce's decision to take Keith Bertschin to Hull City.
Ball has been promoted from the assistant academy manager position he has been operating in alongside Ged McNamee to the post of senior professional development coach. Among other things, he will now be the man leading Sunderland's reserves team.
It means that over the next 12 months, and beyond, he is likely to be playing a reserve team largely made up of youngsters he has helped through the ranks in recent years.
Prospects such as Jordan Pickford, Louis Laing, Blair Adams and Adam Reed were among 11 young players to have signed new deals and Ball is likely to call on them more often than not next season.
Ball is expecting manager Martin O'Neill to be in regular contact to discuss the progress being made by the club's younger players - in the hope one or two can make the step up to the Premier League.
"I will have a foot in both camps. I will talk to the manager about players who could into the first-team, or whether I can help him with any player going down or coming up," said Ball.
"People have to understand that the boys are at a vulnerable age in a sense of kids want to go out and enjoy themselves. They have to make sure that is tempered with trying to become a professional footballer.
"My job is to try to help them understand that because it can be very difficult for them. But if they want to be pros then they must make some massive sacrifices. I am there to help and guide them."
When Ball was younger he had to deal with rejection from Coventry City. It was a situation which actually made him stronger. After bouncing back at Portsmouth, he moved to Sunderland in 1990 and become a fans' favourite during nine years on Wearside. Such experiences have helped him to deal with Sunderland's youngsters.
"I remember getting told by my manager at Coventry, Dave Sexton, who just told me they didn't have the money, I wasn't getting a contract and it was a case of thanks very much and goodbye. He was very polite about, but that was it," said Ball, 47, whose main role now is to work with players between the age of 18-21 at Sunderland.
"I was fortunate in that the youth team manager at the time had wanted me to stay and put me in touch with Portsmouth, so I went there. Now if that hadn't have happened, if that little link hadn't been there, I might not have become a footballer.
"So we don't just bring young kids up to be players. If it doesn't happen, then we send them off. Mistakes do get made and the thing is to learn from them.
"I always told the players when they leave that they have my number and to let me know if they have a problem so we can talk about things. I might be able to help them, I might not, but we talk about it.
"I would find it very difficult if we just binned them. We do have an exit strategy and an education officer with good ideas if things don't work out for them."
* Sunderland have had five fixtures rescheduled to be televised next season.
Liverpool's trip to the Stadium of Light will now take place at 5.30pm on Saturday, September 15 on ESPN. The other four dates will be on Sky Sports.
Sunderland's game at Manchester City on Saturday, October 6 has been brought forward to 12.45pm, while the visit of Newcastle to Wearside has been put back to 1.30pm on Sunday, October 21.
The following month, Sunderland will now travel to Fulham on Sunday, November 18 at 4pm and West Brom make the trip to the Stadium of Light on Sunday, November 25 at 1.30pm.
Sunderland's away day at Newcastle has also had a time change on the advice of police. It will now take place at 1.30pm on Saturday, April 13 rather than the traditional 3pm.