One on One with: Michael Ball

We are back with an all new interview, this time with former Everton, Rangers, Man City and England left back Michael Ball. Bursting onto the scene in the 1996/97 season with Everton, Ball quickly became a mainstay in that side despite his young years. It was a difficult period for the Blues with off field financial issues often dampening the aspirations of the die hard fans. But with the promotion of Ball and others (such as Richard Dunne, Francis Jeffers and Leon Osman) from the 1997 FA Youth Cup win, the club looked set for a bright future. It would be short lived and Ball like many other stars were sold to balance the books.

We caught up with him recently to chat his career including switching from Liverpool to Everton in his youth, his time in Scotland including that Old Firm game, marking the Romford Pele and winning so few caps for England.

Back Of The Net: Who was your idol growing up? What influence did they have on your career?

Michael Ball: Mostly any Everton player on the ’80’s – I used to love being big Neville (Southall) in goal but also try to score diving headers like Andy Gray & shoot like Kevin Sheedy.

BOTN: As a schoolboy you traded the red half of Liverpool for the blue half by joining Everton from Liverpool’s youth system. How did that come about? 

MB: I was lucky enough to have the son of a Liverpool academy coach Hughie McCauley in my local side. He invited me to a training session when I was around seven years old which continued until just before my 14th birthday. McCauley, Dave Shannon & Stevie Heighway were 3 fantastic coaches.

BOTN: Let’s talk about Everton and making your breakthrough at 17 under the legendary Howard Kendall. How did it feel to pull on that jersey for your debut against Spurs?  

MB: It was a fantastic unbelievable feeling and one I’d been dreaming & focusing on doing all my life.

Ball gets the better of Vegard Heggem in the Merseyside derby (Image from Tumblr)

Ball gets the better of Vegard Heggem in the Merseyside derby (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Financial issues at Everton led to a move north of the border to Rangers. It was either Rangers or Middlesborough correct? Looking back now, do you think that was the right move to make at that early stage in your career?  

MB: I was crushed when I wasn’t going to be offered a new deal at Everton. They apparently accepted offers from Liverpool, Middlesborough and Rangers.  I was hoping to stay & prove the manager wrong but after being told I would rot in the reserves a move had to happen sadly.

BOTN: You have played in the Old Firm derby (Glasgow Rangers vs Glasgow Celtic) and the Merseyside one (Liverpool vs Everton). How do they compare? 

MB: Both games are fantastic, obviously being a local blue I know the feeling of winning but also losing these games. The Old Firm was no different just media build up beforehand was a lot more.

BOTN: What happened in your Old firm debut when you were substituted? 

MB: The disagreement (between Ball and Rangers manager Dick Advocaat) was just myself showing frustration in the wrong way to the manager at the time. I reacted because I just wanted to keep playing and gets us back into the game.

 

Rangers beat several offers to land Ball (Image from Tumblr)

Rangers beat several offers to land Ball (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: It was in Scotland that you suffered your first major injury, damaging your medial ligament which would keep you out for the better part of two seasons. Mentally and emotionally that must have been tough. How did you cope with that injury and were there times where you thought you wouldn’t bounce back? 

MB: It was a really difficult time for myself and the club who invested a lot to bring me in. For me, it was an injury I had been carrying for over a season and thought I’d got over it. Unfortunately after a game my patella tendinitis (an overuse injury of the tendon that straightens the knee) came back and an operation was the only way forward. Dr Steadman was in shock at the state of my tendon but also reassured me I’ll be back playing once rehab was complete.

BOTN: Rumour has it your move to PSV Eindhoven came as a result of a recommendation by Ronald Waterreus (former Rangers goalkeeper) to then manager Guus Hiddink. You were all set to sign for Birmingham but instead signed for PSV. What changed your mind? 

MB: That’s true I think. Ronald came from & lived in Eindhoven. As a PSV legend he also went into the training ground when he could. After a successful year including reaching the semi final of the Champions League, they sold their left back Yeong-pyo Lee to Spurs. Ronald said there’s a guy at Rangers worth looking at. Birmingham had been in talks for few weeks offering a three year deal, but then went silent for a long period when I wanted to sign. Birmingham finally came back on deadline day but changed their offer to only one year.  On way to the airport Guss Hiddink called said all the right things & it was only one choice to go, compete in the Champions League & for titles.

BOTN: After PSV, you joined Manchester City as part of their evolution under Sven Goran Eriksson. Was that your most enjoyable time as a player? Was it good to reunited with Sven who gave you your England debut?

MB: It felt great to back to the U.K. & to be coached by Sven. I felt it was the fittest I’d been for a long time and I was hoping success would soon follow with Sven’s ambitions for the club.

 

 

Michael returned to England to sign for Man City following his spell in Holland (Image from Tumblr)

Michael returned to England to sign for Man City following his spell in Holland (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Eriksson signed you later on for Leicester, right? Is he the manager you liked playing for the most? 

MB: Sven tried to sign me while he was manager at Notts Country.  I think he liked my attitude in how approached the game and in training as a lot of his session where defensive focused which I enjoyed a lot.

BOTN: Many people (myself included) are surprised by the fact that you only earned one cap for England during your career but It would appear as though injuries and unfortunate timing in a sense that England had an abundance of options at left back at the time (Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge etc.) played a role. Would you agree? Is that your biggest regret? 

MB: I had my eye on that role coming through the youth yanks and also being selected a few times before my debut happen but it’s not a regret as I couldn’t do too much about it. The timing of my injury was the biggest let down for my England career as unfortunately for myself Cole and Bridge had established themselves in the squad. I still hoped even though it would be difficult that I could find a way back in.

Its surprising to many that Ball only has one England cap to his name (Image from Tumblr)

It’s surprising to many that Ball only has one England cap to his name (Image from Tumblr)

 

BOTN: Recently we have seen wingers like Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia converted into full backs. What are your thoughts on this? Do you see any positional issues with this?

MB: It seems to be the going trend in modern football. I get it. As most full backs in the game one day probably started as a winger.  My worry is like most they aren’t natural defenders and that art of defending is dying out. They react to situations instead of pre-emptying it.

BOTN: So, what’s next for Michael Ball? Tell us more about two companies you are involved in – Sports Company & Crafted Society? 

MB: Since retired I’ve being struggling into what next –  Coaching / manager etc. That was the obvious choice but the coaching badge courses weren’t for me. My phone kept ringing from ex-teammates, parents and kids who were all asking for my advice & guidance which I’ve now continued doing so with my own sports agency business that keeps me busy and learning. Crafted Society is a fantastic company based in Amsterdam founded by my good friends Mart & Lise, who both have huge experiences in this field and it’s a joy to see them create hand crafted items around the world but also giving back to charities.

BOTN: Finally, a few quick hits please. hardest opponent to mark? 

MB: I played against a lot of world class players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo etc but when i was coming through at Everton, Ray Parlour (Arsenal midfielder) was difficult to mark.

The Romford Pele - Ray Parlour (Image from Tumblr)

The Romford Pele – Ray Parlour (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Best player played with?

MB: Too hard so many. It would be unfair to name just one.

BOTN: Proudest moment as a player? 

MB: Again, too many. Everton debut, first goal, England appearance, first medals etc. All of it.

BOTN: And how do you think Everton will get on this coming season. 

MB: With Carlo at the club, I’m hoping now Everton will start the journey of success. It will take time but with a winner like Carlo, I am excited to see what the next few seasons as a blue will be.

BOTN: That will indeed be interesting to see. Thank You Michael.

If you are a player, coach or parent who need any guidance from Michael, please reach out to him directly via Twitter or Linkedin.

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Rangers Rebuild Begins with New Managerial Appointment

Rangers have appointed Mark Warburton as their new manager (Image from Getty)After the dust had settled on a disappointing season that saw Rangers failing to get out of the Championship at the first attempt, focus has swiftly turned towards next season and with it comes the news of a new managerial team hand picked to bring glory back to the troubled Ibrox outfit. Former Brentford boss Mark Warburton and his trusty assistant David Weir will be trooped out in front of the waiting media today as Rangers new board takes its first steps towards rebuilding the club. Warburton arrives to a mixed reaction from the Rangers faithful who were still largely enamored by stand in boss and former player Stuart McCall.

Despite his best efforts, Stuart McCall failure in getting Rangers promotion cost him the job  (Image from Getty)

Despite his best efforts, Stuart McCall failure in getting Rangers promotion cost him the job
(Image from Getty)

However after being parachuted in by the board to steady the ship and seal promotion, McCall only managed to get this sinking ship over the line, falling at the last hurdle to Motherwell in a rather pointless relegation/promotion showdown double episode. That defeat convinced many at Ibrox that major surgery was needed on both the playing staff and the coaching setup with perhaps for the first time in the clubs history a need to distance itself from its past tendencies to appoint former legends like McCall to save the day. He will have known at the time that defeat in the playoffs against his former side Motherwell would seal his fate however in typical McCall style he came out fighting and made a valid pitch for the job full time. That pitch was convincing and will have likely sparked debate at the boardroom level. But the sentiment towards McCall as a player for the club may have been his downfall with a fresh approach much needed. In Warburton, Rangers can get that freshness whilst maintaining a link to the clubs past through his assistant, David Weir. Like McCall, Weir is an Ibrox legend, a captain fantastic who surprised many in Scottish and world football by playing well into his forties with the same tenacity and spirit that he possessed as a kid some twenty years before. At Rangers Weir was the most respected man on and off the pitch at the club for a long time and many tout him as a future manager but for now they will settle for him as the assistant to Warburton. The new manager will need Weir’s insider knowledge of both Rangers and Scottish football if he is to settle in quickly and have the best chance of success.

David Weir will be an important part of the new backroom team  (image from Steve Parkin)

David Weir will be an important part of the new backroom team
(image from Steve Parkin)

However the challenge that awaits Warburton and Weir is nothing less than daunting. They inherit a skeleton  playing staff that lacks both in numbers and quality. Many of the faces from last years disaster campaign have gone – Boyd, Moshni, Foster, Daly and McCulloch with a few others eyeing the exit door with enthusiasm. There will be cash available to invest in players but it won’t be the amount that Rangers fans are used to seeing. The days of frivolous spending that saw Rangers wasted vast sums of money on the likes of Tore Andre Flo and Michael Ball are long gone. The focus will be on building for the future, investing in players who can not only compete in the Championship but also in the Scottish Premiership in the foreseeable future. Youth players will play a pivotal role in the clubs forward success especially given Warburton’s background in nurturing talent. Unfortunately for him that talent will not be coming out of the clubs youth system at Murray Park for a while as that well has all but dried up by now. The last prodigal son to come through that system was Lewis McLeod who ironically was sold to Brentford just as he began to stamp his authority on the Ibrox turf. Others have emerged since then like Tom Walsh and Ryan Hardie but have yet to really establish themselves as indispensable components of the Rangers machine. Warburton will have to look beyond Murray Park in search of young talent and again unfortunately will hit a snag. With no scouting network in operation at Rangers, the work will fall on Warburton, Weir and his coaching staff initially until a chief scout can be identified and brought in to help.

The days of overspending on players like Flo are over for Rangers  (Image from AP)

The days of overspending on players like Flo are over for Rangers
(Image from AP)

Building a squad capable of challenging is one thing but building one that can do so in under four weeks is another. Rangers pre-season training kicks off in earnest in early July with their first Championship match due on August 8th. Warburton will start the rebuild immediately but it will be time that will be his biggest opponent as he battles to get Rangers ready for the new season. The pressure on Warburton and Weir will be immense but the duo who led Brentford to the English Championship play offs only 18 months after taking charge should be able to handle it. Only time will tell whether Warburton can steer Rangers back to the Scottish Premiership and back challenging for the top Scottish honours once more.

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