KEVIN Ball yesterday admitted he wouldn’t be able to take the guilt if Sunderland simply turned their back on any young player deemed not good enough to make it as a professional.
The club’s newly-appointed senior development coach is proud to say his club work harder than most to ensure no academy player is deserted, even if they fall short of what is required in top-flight football.
Ball himself was all but thrown on the scrap heap, as a teenager when he failed to make the grade at is first club Coventry City.
The former Sunderland captain is delighted that things have changed enormously since those days and that he is able to look the parents of a youth player in the eye and make a solemn promise that the club would still do all it can to help them if a full-time football career is not for them.
Ball said: “I remember getting told by my first manager at Coventry, Dave Sexton, that they didn’t have the money and I wasn’t getting a contract. It was a case of thanks very much and goodbye.
“He was very polite about it, but that was it.
“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 at Sunderland we don’t just bring them up to be players and, if it doesn’t happen, we just send them off on their own.
“In the past it might have been we did let go a player and didn’t do as much as we could for him. But we have got better and better to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“I always tell 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 are. 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.
“Some of them, at the end of their third year, might not make the next step. They might go to university or back to college and we’ll help them with that. We don’t just say ‘see you later’ and that’s it.
“We do have an exit strategy and an education officer with good ideas if things don’t work out for them.”
Ball (pictured left) was proud to take on more responsibility in his new role after working solely with the Under-18 team for the past six years.
He now works with those players between the age of 18 and 21, the most vital time of their development.
Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill is relying on Ball, who played almost 400 games for the club, to alert him to any young talent good enough to be considered the first team. He said: “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 and help them understand that because it can be very difficult. If they want to be pros then the must make some massive sacrifices. I am there to help and guide them so they can be a success at Sunderland.”