Arsenal teenager Ballard can become a Northern Ireland star, says Gunners scout
Establishing himself in the Northern Ireland squad is just another challenge that former international Stephen Morrow expects teenage starlet Daniel Ballard to meet head-on.
After finding himself at a crossroads aged just 14 when he was first released by the Gunners and then suffered a broken ankle while on trial at Southampton, Ballard’s development has soared since returning to the club from hometown side Stevenage.
Impressive performances under club legend Freddie Ljungberg in the Arsenal under-23 team and a run to last season’s FA Youth Cup final – where they lost to Chelsea – earned the 19-year-old four under-21 caps and his continued rise has now led to a senior call-up from Michael O’Neill for the opening Euro 2020 qualifiers against Estonia and Belarus this week.
Morrow, who was the last Arsenal player to be capped by Northern Ireland, is now Head of Youth Recruitment at his old club and has seen Ballard’s development at close hand.
“Daniel has met every challenge that has been set for him,” said Morrow.
“He has come through the academy system with us, earned himself a scholarship and then impressed enough to be given a professional contract.
“Since stepping up into the under-23s he has done very well. I speak to Freddie Ljungberg on a regular basis, Daniel’s name comes up in those conversations and he is a player whose development we are watching very closely.
“Daniel has obviously impressed with the under-21s and performed well enough to merit a call-up into the senior squad.
“I know that he will give a good account of himself whatever Michael and the coaching staff ask him to do and he’s the type of lad that nothing will phase him.”
The Arsenal staff are considering sending Ballard out on-loan to gain further experience. Having been called-up by O’Neill there is now the possibility that he will follow the likes of Philip Mulryne and Jonny Evans in making his international debut before appearing in the first-team at his club and in turn supersede Morrow in becoming the latest Gunner to pull on the green shirt at senior level.
Belfast Telegraph Digital