Blackpool’s latest signing is Northern Ireland international Daniel Ballard on loan from Arsenal. The 21-year-old joins for the season and will not count towards the 22-man squad limit and therefore leaves two spaces still open for new recruits. Ballard joins on loan until January and adds to our four other options at centre-back.
Despite only being aged 21, Ballard is seen as a leader at Arsenal on the field and has captained the successful Arsenal U18s to an FA Youth Cup victory. He’s primarily a right-sided centre-back, which means he’d compete with Michael Nottingham and Marvin Ekpiteta, while Jordan Thorniley remains the only left-footed centre-half – though James Husband can also fill in there. Neil Critchley has favoured two right-footed centre-backs in most of the games so far this season, so there’s no reason why Ballard can’t start alongside any of the existing Pool defenders.
Having been loaned to Swindon Town last season, Ballard will already know Jerry Yates and Keshi Anderson, though he only managed three appearances for them due to an injury lay-off.
Ballard made his debut for Northern Ireland during the recent international break, playing alongside former Pool defender Craig Cathcart in both the 1-1 draw with Romania and a 5-1 defeat to Norway, where he came off at half-time.
View from the other side
Arsenal Youth Expert John Williamson explained in a recent article on GunnersTown.com what we can expect to see from the young defender:
“Daniel reads the game very well and has a strong personality; with his position at the back, he has the ability to see what is happening all over the pitch, enabling him to give advice and position his team mates, making him an ideal captain.
“Daniel is a big, strong, right sided centre back who reads the game well, a good header of the ball and makes crunching tackles when required. He has a no thrills style who can sniff out danger and deal with it; he reminds me of a Tony Adams type of player.“
Despite the high billing from Arsenal fans, Ballard has also suffered badly with injuries and that’s something we’ll need to bear in mind this year and may temper expectations.
Williamson said: “Unfortunately Daniel has had a few setbacks with injuries, I recall an U16 match at Tottenham’s training ground where Daniel collapsed on the pitch, an ambulance was called and there was a 20 minute delay, then as you alluded to, last season whist on loan at Swindon, Daniel got injured playing against Colchester United which resulted in an operation and once again missing time due to rehab.”
Williamson is confident that Ballard can still make the grade with Arsenal’s first team, such is his potential, and this loan move will surely be key to him showcasing his abilities – both in a footballing sense and also from a fitness perspective.
“I do believe that Daniel has the ability to make it with Arsenal. What is needed is for Daniel to remain injury free and in a season or so, have a pathway.”
Fans have also given their reaction on Twitter:
“Watched his performance v Norway. He was good in parts especially: 1) long ball which was goal converted, 2) challenge on Haaland (even though he got carded). There were some decision making issues. A bit raw, but definite future first team player”
“I think the newly-promoted Championship should try to get him on loan. League 1 will also be a good move for him”
“Just hope he stays fit”
“Nice lad. Big unit and a bit of a leader amongst the lads”
Ballard’s leadership qualities, even at such a young age, will add to a number of passionate leaders already at the club. The concern with young defenders is often whether they have enough of a presence on the pitch and whether they can remain organised, but Ballard has clearly showcased both of these qualities already having captained Arsenal at youth level. He’s clearly highly rated by the Gooners, so if we can work his way into Critchley’s best XI and stay fit then we may have a real player on our hands for the season.
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Image: Blackpool FC Twitter