Steve Morrow has said that Danny Ballard can become a star at Arsenal after the youngster received his first full international call-up.
The 19-year-old was selected as part of Michael O’Neill’s Euro squad for their games against Estonia on Thursday [2-0 win] and Alex Hleb’s Belarus on Sunday. Although Ballard has been called up more to give him experience around the international set-up, he’s not just there to make up the numbers.
“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 [Northern Ireland] 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.”
Ballard’s selection was surprising to some, but O’Neill explained a few days ago, “He’s a young centre-back who was with our Under-19s last year with Stephen Frail and did very well,” said O’Neill.
“We have promoted him to the Under-21 squad and he’s playing regularly for Arsenal at Under-23 level. We are bringing him in for the experience but it’s also an indication of where we are as Gareth (McAuley) and Aaron (Hughes) aren’t going to go on forever.
“Neither are playing regularly and it’s important to bring Daniel in because in the next 12 to 18 months he has the potential to be a regular fixture in the squad.
“He’s young and he’s raw but competitive. He likes to attack the ball, he’s a good defender and he’s shown good character. Arsenal were a bit undecided about him 12 months ago but they decided to keep him and he’s done well in that period.
“He has been very good in our Under-19 ranks and, like Paul Smyth, Jordan Thompson and Gavin Whyte, we believe in promoting players and seeing them grow with us in a developing squad. You have to hope it helps their club careers because if that’s going in the right direction it makes life easier for us in terms of selection.”
Ballard has performed well for the Arsenal u23s this season. He’d only made a single appearance for the top academy side before the start of this campaign, captaining the u18s to the FA Youth Cup final in 2017/18. However, he’s done well making the step up, and it does seem like only a matter of time until he gets a first-team opportunity.
Unfortunately, he’s had Zech Medley alongside him breaking through at the same time, and Medley was the one who ended up getting the emergency call-up when Arsenal were low on centre-backs earlier in the season.
The former Chelsea youth defender had the advantage of being completely physically ready for first-team football, so perhaps Unai Emery thought he was a better option for promotion. Still, on this season’s form, Ballard would’ve made an equally good choice.
As expected, O’Neill confirmed that this call-up is mostly for the experience. The opportunity to work with a new bunch of senior players for a couple of weeks can only be a good thing for the 19-year-old though.