His day job may be looking after the kids, but Kevin Ball’s smartest move since taking over as caretaker manager has been treating Sunderland’s players like adults.
Ask any of them how life has changed since Ball replaced Paolo Di Canio, and the gist will be that things are better. The Academy of Light is a happier place.
By his own admission, Di Canio was a hard taskmaster. Ultra-professional in some aspects of his playing career, the Italian expected still higher standards from those he coached. Displease him, and you were quickly on the wrong end of a fine.
Ball has no intentions of letting standards slip but they must be set by the players, not their coach.
“What’s important is understanding they are men and treating them that way,” explains Ball, Sunderland’s Under-21 coach.
“If something has happened I would just talk to them about it. If it continually happened, then that is a different proposition.
“What you tend to do is have house rules. You don’t want me to be there going, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that’ because it is not going to work. I can’t be there all the time. That’s why in the end, they have to set the rules and the standards. It has to be them that drives it on.
“In an ideal world, you would like to sit with the group as a whole and say, ‘Come on then, what is acceptable and what is not?’ You come to a common ground and say, ‘Right, bang, that’s it’. Then if they step out of line they have got no comeback because they agreed to it.
“Whatever the penance is then, they have got to pay. There can’t be any argument about it then. I’d prefer to do it that way.
“When it comes to fines, it is probably more pride than anything. Reidy (Peter Reid) used to fine us £30 for being late for training. I remember driving up the A1 like a lunatic because I didn’t want to be late. I wasn’t bothered about the £30, it was more the tar of being the captain and being late for training that I didn’t want. That’s what spurred me on.
“They have got to take responsibility for their actions. I think they will do that.”
That applies on the field too.
“We’ve shown them footage from the (Liverpool) game,” says Ball. “There were some good bits but we’ve also shown them some bits we need to improve on.
“You are sitting watching video footage of yourself and it can be great if you are doing well, but sometimes you will think ‘I should have done that better’. There’s hundreds of thousands watching it on TV, but when they are amongst their mates and their peers that is hard.
“It’s not to embarrass them, it is to help them improve. They’ve seen it from a very positive angle.”