KEVIN Ball used his opportunity as Sunderland’s interim head coach to integrate the first team and under 21s far more than they had done previously under Paolo Di Canio.
And that process is likely to continue under new head coach Gus Poyet who has already indicated that he favours closer union between the two squads.
That will be a far cry from life at Sunderland under Di Canio who put focus on the first team above all else and enforced pretty much total separation between them and the rest at the Academy.
Ball explained: “Paolo Di Canio had nothing against the Under 21s – I think he just wanted to concentrate on the first team, and that was his prerogative as manager.
“Mine would always be, if I was in charge as manager, I would want a certain integration.
“My view is that the 18s needs to dovetail with the 21s and the 21s need to dovetail with the first team and if it means that they mix in at the right time then so be it.
“Obviously you reserve the right to train separately.
“But I find it’s good to have the 18s training with the 21s at times because the 18s might think it’s easy and most quickly find that it’s not – that it’s a lot quicker.
“And then the 21s might train with the first team and find exactly the same themselves.
“On the other hand you’ll see some of the under 18s doing well enough to merit involvement with the 21s and some of the 21s doing well enough to merit involvement with the first team.
And I think what the first team get out of it is the fantastic enthusiasm and energy that youngsters can bring to training.
“I’m mindful that the first team has the experience, the strength, the physicality and the greater skill levels but they can be energised by being up against younger players.”
Those words sum up Ball’s general approach as a coach but actions speak louder than words and it was a philosophy he immediately put into practice during his brief time at the helm.
“I did it with practice matches to give squad players who have had little involvement in the first team some match practice,” he said.
“And I thought it worked well because it gave the 21s a view of the first team.
“They get to know each other and understand each other and it helps increase knowledge experience and competition within the group.”
As a rule, it’s a policy that Poyet favours and the Uruguayan indicated as much this week, when he was underlining how important he expected Ball to be in his time at the club.
“I expect to be working closely with him,” added Poyet.
“The way I work, there is quite a lot of mixing between the younger players and the senior players so I will be seeing a lot of Kevin in the weeks ahead.
”I want to get the best out of the coaching staff, as well as the players at the club.”