Alex Neil explains why Sunderland have made Daniel Ballard their first summer transfer

Sunderland have completed the signing of Daniel Ballard on a long-term deal.

Ballard has signed a three-year contract to become the club’s first summer addition, representing a significant investment for the Black Cats.

Sunderland also hold the option to extend that deal for a further season.

The 22-year-old had been in talks with Burnley last week but Sunderland moved quickly when that switch did not materialise. Alex Neil’s options in central defence have been boosted significantly in the past two days, with Bailey Wright signing a new two-year deal on his return to the club for pre-season training yesterday.

Daniel Ballard has been capped fifteen times by Northern Ireland

Neil says Ballard will add welcome competition following the departures of Manchester City loanee Callum Doyle and Arbenit Xhemajli.

“First and foremost, Daniel will add competition,” Neil said.

"Callum Doyle’s loan deal ended in May and Arby Xhemajli left the club, so we wanted to add in that area and Daniel fits into our structure of being a young, up and coming player who also has Championship experience. He fits the bill and he also knows what it takes to win, sampling success with Blackpool in the Play-Offs before having a year under his belt [in the second tier] with Millwall last season.

"We are really pleased to get this deal over the line.”

Ballard had been with Arsenal since joining the club’s academy at the age of eight, and saw his first loan with Swindon Town cut short by injury.

From there, though, he would join Elliot Embleton as a key player in the Blackpool side who stormed to play-off success in the second half of the 2020/21 League One campaign. That run included a superb performance, featuring a goal line clearance, in a narrow and crucial 1-0 win over Sunderland.

He then joined Millwall on loan and made 33 appearances across all competitions.

Millwall had been interested in bringing him back to the club, and there was interest from numerous clubs in the Championship. But the Black Cats made their move and have landed a top target as they prepare for their return to the Championship.

Sunderland start their pre-season programme with behind-closed-doors training games against Gateshead and Blyth Spartans on Saturday at the Academy of Light.