He’s served Sunderland well but is it time for Kevin Ball to leave?

John McCormick:
John McCormick: pondering the imponderable

John McCormick is among Kevin Ball’s admirers. But, as Gus Poyet sets about the mammoth task of saving Sunderland AFC from relegation and Ellis Short ponders the club structure from top to bottom, he argues that the time may have come for Bally to move on. Not everyone will agree …

We all know the Niall Quinn quotation:

“I learned my trade at Arsenal, became a footballer at Manchester City but Sunderland got under my skin” 

What might Bally say?

I played my first senior game at  Portsmouth but learned my trade at Sunderland, became a footballer at Sunderland, gave my all to Sunderland”?

Kevin Ball has come to epitomise all we cherish in the club. Diligence, perseverance, craft, guts, effort and more skill than many fans credit him with. He deserves every piece of praise sent his way and more besides. His relationship with the fans is just one of the attributes recognised by Ellis Short and it would seem that he will continue to have a role at the club whatever happens in the future.

Or will he? Will Bally stay until retirement, like Steve Heighway at Liverpool’s Academy, or will he go? I don’t know, but here’s why I think he could leave.

Being faint of memory I consulted the web. This is what Wikipedia had to say on Bally’s first tenure:

“Between 6 March and 8 May 2006 Ball acted as Sunderland caretaker manager for the last ten games of the 2005–06 season following the sacking of Mick McCarthy, taking five points from these games. Although Ball expressed his interest in the manager’s job on a full-time basis, incoming chairman Niall Quinn was keen for the club to appoint a ‘world-class manager’ following the club’s takeover by the Drumaville Consortium, ruling Ball out of the running”

I’m not a fan of Wikipedia but I think that’s an accurate summation. Then this season, for the second time and under a second chairman, Kevin Ball was put to one side. No doubt Ellis Short had his reasons. Ball might accept them. On the face of it he does but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some subtle shift in his feelings towards the club’s management. A failure to gain a desired post is often rationalised by judgements, deserved or not, about the decision makers. Bonds are broken and people resolve to go.

  • His clock is ticking

Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez are around 40. Gus Poyet is around 45. Kevin Ball is approaching 50. David Moyes and Michael Laudrup are a similar age but both have been managing for over ten years, the latter with quite a bit of success. Ball has tasted management and evidently likes it but if he doesn’t get a move on he won’t be going anywhere.

  • He has no prospect of managing at Sunderland.

Does anyone think Poyet will be sacked in the next two years? If he is will Bally get the job full-time? No he won’t. Not a chance. Ellis Short has already passed him over and he’ll be too old when the opportunity arises again. Gus Poyet is reported as saying Ball has a pivotal role “He doesn’t know yet, how important he is going to be for me”. But I wonder how long that will last. The new manager has brought in his new team, fitting it in to a club structure that was built with minimal input from Ball. Kevin Ball  can stay where he is or he can leave, but where else in the club can he go? Nowhere, as far as I can see.

  • Is he likely to be pushed?

The changes hinted at above have been far-reaching. No problem there, our Senior Development Coach should be able to work within any system. The aim should be, a-la Barcelona, a continuous flow of kids who are nurtured in a single style of football throughout their development so they can make a seamless transition to the first team.

Kevin Ball
Kevin Ball*

We haven’t quite got there, however, and Kevin Ball’s record is not good in this respect. I’m not blaming him for this, I think the whole English academy system is a failure, but that doesn’t hide the fact that in his time as academy boss/development chief there has been a dearth of players coming through. For years we’ve been borrowing players from clubs like Man Utd and Spurs and loaning players to clubs like Burton and Woking before moving them out. Ellis Short might have recently praised our caretaker manager but he has also tried to balance the books. If he has to keep buying players he could once again decide to act ruthlessly, this time to hire someone he thinks will do a better job of bringing on young ones. In such circumstances is Ball likely to jump before he is pushed?

I repeat, I don’t know. I’m 170 miles away from Sunderland. I don’t watch goings on in training sessions, I don’t get the gossip; and who has any idea what’s going on in the boardroom or in the minds of Ellis Short and Gus Poyet? As for Kevin Ball himself, how keen will he be to step out of the comfort zone that SAFC still represents? He’s had a taste of management and he likes it. If he wants to go in that direction he’ll have to do it soon. With his experience and passion there must be a dozen clubs that would love to have him as a coach. Maybe, with or without encouragement, he’ll make that step.

I do think we need, and will have, a period of stability but I think there will be more changes sooner or later. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Kevin Ball is not on the staff a few months from now.


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* Photo of Kevin Ball, if you can actually make him out, is used with the usual thanks to therokerend.com, website of the Sunderland Formers Players Association.

14 thoughts on “He’s served Sunderland well but is it time for Kevin Ball to leave?”

  1. There is a major difference between nuturing young talent and running a EPL team, Bally apted for the youth set up and has stayed with it for many seasons, is that wrong? He does a reasonable job and understands the club and the area why should he stop being involved, he has never shown ambition to go further and to my knowledge has never applied for another job, leave him where he is

    • Spot on.

      A silly question IMO and rather self defeating. Who would want him to leave?

      Short as a businessman has taken a long look at the Academy and obviously sees it as a drain on resources with little real return. It has always been a vanity project as far as I am concerned.

      So how does he get a return —by changing SAFC’s recruitment policy; by spending money on promising youngsters with the expectation they will soon be in contention for the first team or can be sold on at a profit.

      That’s why Poyet indicates Ball is important to that process.

      Why on earth should Ball leave at this stage and why should any SAFC fan even pose the question!!!

      • Ball has twice said he’s interested in a management role. Is that not enough reason for him to leave and for fans to ask to ask if he will be going?

      • Bally wanted the SAFC job that’s probably the only reason he expressed an interest in being a club manager.

        If your well written piece was based on this ground then it was pure speculation without any underpinning.

        If you can state a certain club asked SAFC permission to speak to Ball or that you know he is actually applying for jobs then that is fact.

        You do a cracking job on this site so apologies if this sounds like it comes from a moaning makem.

      • You might be right.

        I don’t know what’s going on in anyone’s mind, including that of Ellis Short, so of course it’s speculation on my part.

        I’m giving my thoughts and, as M Salut said in the introduction, others might not agree.

        I have to say, though, if I was chairman and someone said the only management job he wanted was at my club I’d be very loth to give it to him

        Thanks for the compliment about the writing.

  2. The U21s are doing well. It’s the first team that’s shocking. The two Italians and Ellis Short should be packing their bags before there’s any sign of Bally clearing his desk.

    Agree with some of the comments above though. We have a solitary point on the board so why not give some of these kids a chance. I doubt whether any of the young ‘uns under Bally’s charge would lack sufficient self respect as to try to swap shirts with an opponent at half time.

  3. I don’t think all the blame for the lack of kids coming through can be laid al Ball’s door.

    If the manager hasn’t got the balls (no pun etc) to bring kids into the senior squad and try them out they’ll never come through.

    Maybe when we’re playing in the Championship next season we might dare to give a few a try.

  4. Too old? Fergie was just powering up the hair dryer at 50. The late great Bob Paisley was no spring chicken when filling the Anfield trophy cupboard. I think Bally has done a good job. The attrition rate will always be high with youth development. Henderson is a fine player as is Colback. Whereas £8 million for Wickham makes no sense. That could have been spent on local talent. I hope Bally stays and unearths some gems

    • SAF took over his fourth club at the age of 45, and he’d also managed a country by then. He led his third club to many trophies before being appointed.

      Henderson yes, Colback yes, and we probably made our money back on Waghorn.

      Bally unearthing gems would be good, I agree, and while we do bear comparison to many academies that doesn’t mean they are good, nor does it mean we are.

      • How?
        3 successes in how many years? What’s the overall % success rate for the Academy in Kevin ball’s time, by which I mean how many players have gone through it and ended up with a professional career?

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