KEVIN BALL is the “perfect choice” as Sunderland’s new reserve team coach, according to two-time promotion-winning team-mate Michael Gray.
Ball was yesterday promoted from his role in charge of Sunderland’s under-18s side, to the post of senior professional development coach, where he will be responsible for the club’s second string.
The former Sunderland skipper succeeds Keith Bertschin, who has followed Steve Bruce to Hull City, with ex-Darlington boss Craig Liddle now taking charge of the youth team after joining the club during the summer.
Ball, who had a 10-game spell as Sunderland caretaker manager following Mick McCarthy’s dismissal in 2006, has held the position of assistant academy manager for eight years.
But former Sunderland team-mate Gray believes it was time for a change for the 48-year-old and says boss Martin O’Neill has made the right appointment.
Gray told SportMail: “It is a perfect choice because Kevin knows the football club inside out.
“Everyone has seen the work he has done with the under-18s, but I think Kevin himself was probably ready for a new challenge - either somewhere else or at Sunderland.
“It’s good to know that somebody who has got the club at heart still has a big role to play.
“It can only spur the youngsters on who he has brought through the academy. It’s a very good appointment and very astute of Martin O’Neill.
“Kevin had a brief spell with the first-team when Mick McCarthy got sacked.
“Whether that was too soon or not I don’t know, but he went back to the academy and now he has got the opportunity to work at a higher level.
“The coaching staff at any club have meetings and when Martin O’Neill came in, Kevin will have known the players and passed on his information. Little things like that go a long way.
“Whatever Kevin has said to him, it shows Martin has been listening and they are on the same page.”
Ball, who made 389 appearances in red and white – leading the club to promotion in 1996 and 1999, has enjoyed a profitable spell with the academy after shaping the likes of Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback.
And with the reserves now largely composed of young professionals, who have only recently graduated from Ball’s stewardship, he is thoroughly acquainted with those at his disposal.
“It gives the club’s youngsters the best possible opportunity of graduating to the first team, knowing there’s a coach there that’s brought them that far,” said Gray.
“Youngsters coming through in this day and age need to respect their coaches and they are undoubtedly going to do that with Kevin.
“You look at the likes of Jordan Henderson, who has just come back from the Euro’s, and Jack Colback, who has probably saved Sunderland £6 or £7million, and it shows the success he’s had.”