EL-HADJI Ba hopes his 12-month induction course at Sunderland can help him to play a more prominent role for the Black Cats next year.
It took midfielder Ba until the final day of last season to make his Premier League bow for Sunderland after arriving from French Second Division side Le Havre last summer.
But Ba has begun to demonstrate the potential which saw Sunderland spend several months chasing his signature, with the 21-year-old catching the eye in both of his pre-season outings over the last seven days.
Ba believes both training with Gus Poyet’s side and learning from more experienced team-mates has developed his game during the first year of his Sunderland contract and he is eager to be more than just a fringe player in the upcoming campaign.
He told the Echo: “I just want to play as many matches as possible. I’m not looking at anything else.
“I learned a lot last year – both from the way of training here and from the other players.
“It’s a different type of football from France, but I’ve learned lots.
“It’s important for me to keep improving.
“It’s good to play alongside experienced players.
“There are certain things that they do which I see and help me to improve – just the little things which you look to take from them and put into your own game.
“Every match is important for me to gain form and continue my progress.
“Pre-season is a way to impress the manager, but that’s the same for everyone.
“Everyone wants to get their place in the side.”
Ba was among the 20-man Sunderland squad which travelled to Portugal yesterday for the start of a nine-day stint in the Algarve which will see the Black Cats play three friendlies.
Sunderland will look to continue their 100 per cent record in pre-season so far this summer, albeit they have had to rely on the Under-21 squad to secure victories in the last two games against Carlisle and Hartlepool.
But Ba realises that being physically ready for the Premier League is far more important for Gus Poyet’s men than results, with Sunderland’s squad braced for further extensive fitness work during their time on the Continent.
“We’re playing a few matches in Portugal to continue our progress and keep raising our fitness levels,” added the former France Under-20 international.
“You need to be ready because the Premier League is so physical.
“We did a few things badly against Hartlepool (on Wednesday) that we obviously need to improve upon.
“But now, it is all about the minutes. We’ve been training hard, training on the morning of the matches which is tough physically.
“That’s what pre-season is all about though. You need to put in the work to get your form when the season starts.”
Sunderland tackle Recreativo de Huelva in Albufeira on Tuesday before meeting Nacional on Wednesday and Vitoria Setubal next Saturday.