Sunderland starlet Jordan Pickford has opened up on the role club legend Kevin Ball played in his development.
Ball was a key part of the academy set-up as Pickford came through the ranks, the 23-year-old adamant that his experiences have helped to keep him grounded, as well as England captain Jordan Henderson, as they make a big impression in the top flight.
Ball has since moved on from youth duties, but one of his major success stories thinks his ethos has remained,
In an interview with the BBC Football Focus show, Pickford said: “It was a good grounding for us. Bally was my U18 coach and now Elliott [Dickman], who has been there for a long time, is the same.
“When you got into the U18s bootroom, they’re all still wearing black boots, it is all still being being done the same way as it was six years ago when I was a youth team player, and it would have been the same for Hendo when he was there. It isn’t going to change, that’s how we are as a club.
“It’s a hard-working area and the academy has always tried to reflect that.
“Even doing the little jobs and chores properly, you could never get away with anything.
“I can’t remember what I did wrong, but, at one point, Bally put me on the jobs for two weeks – the boots, the balls, the games room, everything. They had to be done perfectly, he wouldn’t let you get away with it.”
Working with Ball was a special privilege for Pickford, who also revealed that the inspirational midfielder was one of his boyhood heroes.
The goalkeeper, nominated for the prestigious PFA young player of the year award, has been at the club from an early age and is a well-known supporter.
He told Football Focus: “I always remember, my cousins came up from Kent and we went to the Charlie Hurley Centre, waiting for autographs from Kevin Phillips and that, but the main one was Bally.
“I’ve still got that – the photo was in the programme the other month. I showed Bally the other week and he was laughing his head off.
“I think I got Phillips in the end. Being in the academy from so young, I’d see so many faces coming through and I’d always be a bit star-struck.
“Now it’s more about going to the big grounds, with the big fan bases against the big teams, but it is all part of the job.”