We are back with an all new interview, this time with former Everton, Rangers, Man City and England left back Michael Ball. Bursting onto the scene in the 1996/97 season with Everton, Ball quickly became a mainstay in that side despite his young years. It was a difficult period for the Blues with off field financial issues often dampening the aspirations of the die hard fans. But with the promotion of Ball and others (such as Richard Dunne, Francis Jeffers and Leon Osman) from the 1997 FA Youth Cup win, the club looked set for a bright future. It would be short lived and Ball like many other stars were sold to balance the books.
We caught up with him recently to chat his career including switching from Liverpool to Everton in his youth, his time in Scotland including that Old Firm game, marking the Romford Pele and winning so few caps for England.
Back Of The Net: Who was your idol growing up? What influence did they have on your career?
Michael Ball: Mostly any Everton player on the ’80’s – I used to love being big Neville (Southall) in goal but also try to score diving headers like Andy Gray & shoot like Kevin Sheedy.
BOTN: As a schoolboy you traded the red half of Liverpool for the blue half by joining Everton from Liverpool’s youth system. How did that come about?
MB: I was lucky enough to have the son of a Liverpool academy coach Hughie McCauley in my local side. He invited me to a training session when I was around seven years old which continued until just before my 14th birthday. McCauley, Dave Shannon & Stevie Heighway were 3 fantastic coaches.
BOTN: Let’s talk about Everton and making your breakthrough at 17 under the legendary Howard Kendall. How did it feel to pull on that jersey for your debut against Spurs?
MB: It was a fantastic unbelievable feeling and one I’d been dreaming & focusing on doing all my life.
BOTN: Financial issues at Everton led to a move north of the border to Rangers. It was either Rangers or Middlesborough correct? Looking back now, do you think that was the right move to make at that early stage in your career?
MB: I was crushed when I wasn’t going to be offered a new deal at Everton. They apparently accepted offers from Liverpool, Middlesborough and Rangers. I was hoping to stay & prove the manager wrong but after being told I would rot in the reserves a move had to happen sadly.
BOTN: You have played in the Old Firm derby (Glasgow Rangers vs Glasgow Celtic) and the Merseyside one (Liverpool vs Everton). How do they compare?
MB: Both games are fantastic, obviously being a local blue I know the feeling of winning but also losing these games. The Old Firm was no different just media build up beforehand was a lot more.
BOTN: What happened in your Old firm debut when you were substituted?
MB: The disagreement (between Ball and Rangers manager Dick Advocaat) was just myself showing frustration in the wrong way to the manager at the time. I reacted because I just wanted to keep playing and gets us back into the game.
BOTN: It was in Scotland that you suffered your first major injury, damaging your medial ligament which would keep you out for the better part of two seasons. Mentally and emotionally that must have been tough. How did you cope with that injury and were there times where you thought you wouldn’t bounce back?
MB: It was a really difficult time for myself and the club who invested a lot to bring me in. For me, it was an injury I had been carrying for over a season and thought I’d got over it. Unfortunately after a game my patella tendinitis (an overuse injury of the tendon that straightens the knee) came back and an operation was the only way forward. Dr Steadman was in shock at the state of my tendon but also reassured me I’ll be back playing once rehab was complete.
BOTN: Rumour has it your move to PSV Eindhoven came as a result of a recommendation by Ronald Waterreus (former Rangers goalkeeper) to then manager Guus Hiddink. You were all set to sign for Birmingham but instead signed for PSV. What changed your mind?
MB: That’s true I think. Ronald came from & lived in Eindhoven. As a PSV legend he also went into the training ground when he could. After a successful year including reaching the semi final of the Champions League, they sold their left back Yeong-pyo Lee to Spurs. Ronald said there’s a guy at Rangers worth looking at. Birmingham had been in talks for few weeks offering a three year deal, but then went silent for a long period when I wanted to sign. Birmingham finally came back on deadline day but changed their offer to only one year. On way to the airport Guss Hiddink called said all the right things & it was only one choice to go, compete in the Champions League & for titles.
BOTN: After PSV, you joined Manchester City as part of their evolution under Sven Goran Eriksson. Was that your most enjoyable time as a player? Was it good to reunited with Sven who gave you your England debut?
MB: It felt great to back to the U.K. & to be coached by Sven. I felt it was the fittest I’d been for a long time and I was hoping success would soon follow with Sven’s ambitions for the club.
BOTN: Eriksson signed you later on for Leicester, right? Is he the manager you liked playing for the most?
MB: Sven tried to sign me while he was manager at Notts Country. I think he liked my attitude in how approached the game and in training as a lot of his session where defensive focused which I enjoyed a lot.
BOTN: Many people (myself included) are surprised by the fact that you only earned one cap for England during your career but It would appear as though injuries and unfortunate timing in a sense that England had an abundance of options at left back at the time (Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge etc.) played a role. Would you agree? Is that your biggest regret?
MB: I had my eye on that role coming through the youth yanks and also being selected a few times before my debut happen but it’s not a regret as I couldn’t do too much about it. The timing of my injury was the biggest let down for my England career as unfortunately for myself Cole and Bridge had established themselves in the squad. I still hoped even though it would be difficult that I could find a way back in.
BOTN: Recently we have seen wingers like Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia converted into full backs. What are your thoughts on this? Do you see any positional issues with this?
MB: It seems to be the going trend in modern football. I get it. As most full backs in the game one day probably started as a winger. My worry is like most they aren’t natural defenders and that art of defending is dying out. They react to situations instead of pre-emptying it.
BOTN: So, what’s next for Michael Ball? Tell us more about two companies you are involved in – Sports Company & Crafted Society?
MB: Since retired I’ve being struggling into what next – Coaching / manager etc. That was the obvious choice but the coaching badge courses weren’t for me. My phone kept ringing from ex-teammates, parents and kids who were all asking for my advice & guidance which I’ve now continued doing so with my own sports agency business that keeps me busy and learning. Crafted Society is a fantastic company based in Amsterdam founded by my good friends Mart & Lise, who both have huge experiences in this field and it’s a joy to see them create hand crafted items around the world but also giving back to charities.
BOTN: Finally, a few quick hits please. hardest opponent to mark?
MB: I played against a lot of world class players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo etc but when i was coming through at Everton, Ray Parlour (Arsenal midfielder) was difficult to mark.
BOTN: Best player played with?
MB: Too hard so many. It would be unfair to name just one.
BOTN: Proudest moment as a player?
MB: Again, too many. Everton debut, first goal, England appearance, first medals etc. All of it.
BOTN: And how do you think Everton will get on this coming season.
MB: With Carlo at the club, I’m hoping now Everton will start the journey of success. It will take time but with a winner like Carlo, I am excited to see what the next few seasons as a blue will be.
BOTN: That will indeed be interesting to see. Thank You Michael.