Millwall boss Gary Rowett says it is too early to put a return date on Daniel Ballard’s return as the promising Arsenal defender recovers from surgery for a knee injury.
Daniel Ballard picked up a knee injury recently that required surgery. It’s not the first time the defender has had problems, his loan at Swindon was aborted almost immediately after picking up a problem.
Still, the defender has shown enough in his spells away from Arsenal to insure the club stand by him, especially given they have already released him once (read more about that below).
“You don’t know what they are going to find when they go in and you’ve had previous injuries,” said Rowett. “Eight, 10 or a 12-week prognosis is a reasonable timescale for any operation.
“But it depends how you feel after two, three or four weeks. Just because that is the timescale doesn’t mean that is what it is. You look at Lenny and his timescale [first time] was a lot quicker than it was, it kept getting extended all the time because it didn’t feel quite right.
“If it all goes smoothly then three months doesn’t feel too horrendous but I’m sure if you ask Dan then he isn’t seeing much positive light at the minute.
“It’s a frustrating time for any player, particularly when you’ve been performing well.
“For both players it’s going to be a case of accept it, get your head down and try to get back as strong as you can rather than feel a bit unlucky, annoyed or frustrated – that doesn’t do you any good in the end.
“Both will work hard to come back as quick as they can.”
Ballard is set to undertake a large part of his early rehab at Arsenal, something Rowett expanded on.
“At a Premier League club like that they will have all the best facilities and lots of different staff,” said Rowett. “Usually the club prefer to do it that way as the player belongs to them, we did the same with Tyler Burey after he got injured at Hartlepool.
“Maybe midway through the player re-acclimatises back into the group and the training ground, to get ready to return to playing for us.”
Daniel Ballard’s background
Having initially been released from Arsenal’s youth ranks as a schoolboy, the teenager refused to give up and managed to earn himself a two-year scholarship deal against the odds in 2016.
A trial at Southampton ended in agony when the centre back broke his ankle before he returned to the Gunners for rehabilitation.
After a swift recovery from this setback, he went back to familiar roots with Stevenage, where he was born and raised. They offered him scholarship terms to join their academy, but Andries Jonker called him to ask whether he’d be interested in featuring for the u18s in a friendly match against Bayern Munich.
If successful, there was a chance that he’d be taken on as a scholar – something that is extremely rare, especially within big youth academies such as Arsenal.
“I couldn’t go on trial anywhere or train with other clubs and it looked like the injury had put an end to my hopes,” Ballard said.
“The good news was that I recovered quite quickly and in the summer, I was able to start playing again and going on trials. I had gone to Stevenage, which is where I am originally from. Stevenage liked me as a player and had offered me a scholarship which I was happy about.
“Then I got a call from Andries Jonker at Arsenal.
“He told me he wanted me to come along with the under-18s to play in a friendly game against Bayern Munich. He said if things went well there was a possibility that I’d be taken on.
“That never happens.”
Understandably, there was plenty of scepticism about Ballard’s decision from his family and friends, but he said that something within him told him to go. On the flight home from the friendly itself, Jonker revealed he was impressed by the then 17-year-old’s defensive display, the way he conducted himself, and offered him a scholarship on the spot.
“Many people around me were sceptical and telling me not to go because I may have just been making up the numbers and I could risk losing everything offered to me at Stevenage.
“Something inside me was telling me to go.
“Possibly because I’d been rejected by Arsenal before and they changed their minds previously. When I was 14, a lot of players were released from the Hale End academy at the end of the season.
“I met with Liam Brady and he presented me with my documents saying I was being let go and I wouldn’t get another two years with Arsenal as a schoolboy.
“It was the best flight ever,” Ballard continued. “The other lads were really pleased for me but were shocked at the same time. No-one has known Arsenal to change their minds after releasing a player and no-one could believe it.”
Rightly so too, especially given everything that he had to overcome before getting a second opportunity to showcase his ability.
On how his football is progressing since that unforgettable journey, Ballard revealed the fact that he featured in all of the u18s’ first five matches of the 16/17 season. Training on a full-time basis with his team-mates helped him develop into more of a complete player, which is no surprise given the amount of hours spent improving on the training ground as well as the extra gym work he would’ve done on a weekly basis to strengthen physically.
“I feel a lot more confident. I’m really enjoying this challenge and I’m focused on becoming the best I can be and the improvement I have made in these last few months has encouraged me even more,” he added.
Ballard, who supported Chelsea as a boy and revealed his admiration for John Terry in his younger years, identified the fact that he still had extra work to do before he could dream about securing a professional contract in 2018, something he did indeed achieve.
Although tackling is one of Daniel’s main strengths, he admitted that he needs to improve his level of acceleration in future if he’s to have much success with attempted recovery challenges and well-timed tackles under pressure from forwards – who are getting quicker all the time.