Northern Ireland defender Daniel Ballard hails influence of Invincible after penning new Arsenal contract
Northern Ireland defender Daniel Ballard has hailed Under 23 coach Freddie Ljungberg after signing a new professional contract at Arsenal.
The 19-year-old is tipped as a star of the future and his rise to prominence has been recognised at both club and international level.
Ballard has been rewarded with his second professional deal at the Emirates after a season in which he made 23 Premier League 2 appearances for the club's Under 23s.
He has yet to make it into Unai Emery's first team squad, although hopes are high around the club that next season could see the centre-half get his chance.
On penning his new deal, Ballard pointed to the influence of Ljungberg, one of the stars of the club's Invincible season of 03/04.
"I've grown a lot. I found it tough coming into the Under 23s but I've learnt so much under Freddie," he said. "Towards the end of the season, I think it started to show and I was happy with my performances. Freddie has help me a lot with my technique, when to pass, what decisions to make and I've learnt so much during this time with him.
"My defending and knowledge of the game continues to get better as well."
Ballard was given his first call-up to Northern Ireland's senior squad back in March after impressing during the Under 21s' UEFA Championship qualifying campaign.
He captained Arsenal's Under 18 team to the FA Youth Cup final last year, before penning his first senior contract.
His successes mark an ever-more impressive turnaround for the teenager, who was once released by the Gunners before forcing his way back to the club.
He qualifies to represent Northern Ireland through his mother.
"I thought he would have made that (Arsenal) first-team debut by now but I'd say, if he doesn't go out on loan, he will make that step next season maybe in the League Cup games," Dan Critchlow, senior writer for Arsenal fan website the Daily Cannon, told the Belfast Telegraph.
Belfast Telegraph Digital