KEVIN Ball is being shifted to a more administrative and ambassadorial role within Sunderland Football Club.
The long-serving Black Cats icon, twice a caretaker manager at the Stadium of Light, has been a senior professional development coach at the Academy of Light since 2012, taking charge of the club’s Under 21s.
But with the former Sunderland captain due to go in for surgery to reconstruct his knee next week, the club has taken the opportunity to change his role.
Rumours have circulated since last week about Ball’s future at the Academy and, with no early explanation forthcoming from the club, the rumour mill had shifted into overdrive.
But sporting director Lee Congerton explained in an interview with the club’s website that Ball would not be leaving the club.
“Kevin is still a valuable member of this football club – he’s a legend here – but, unfortunately, Kevin had to go and have a new knee,” he explained. “He’s been in a lot of pain for a long time.
“That was due to take place some time this year and we decided that rather than get going with the Under-21s, let’s have the operation down now and he’s due to have it on the 24th of July.”
The major surgery will sideline the 49-year-old for some time, and Ball’s assistant, Robbie Stockdale, has now stepped up to take over his U21 duties.
Congerton added: “I speak to Kevin quite often.
“He’ll still be part of the technical department and he’ll come in and work with myself and do things with me, learn about other parts of the business, help with our loan players and looking at the young players who are going out and making sure they are OK.
“He will also be involved in our commercial department, in our global work in Nigeria and other countries, and he’s a big part of our football club.”
While Ball – first-team caretaker in 2005/06 and last season – moves away from coaching, Congerton feels Stockdale deserves his opportunity.
He said: “I think the whole club need stability and Robbie Stockdale is from the North East, he’s worked with Kevin, he will continue to work with the U21s.
“He’s overseeing them at present.
“He joined us about a year ago. Ged McNamee brought him in, he’d been working at Grimsby and had a good reputation and we want to develop our own coaches as well as our players.
“It won’t happen overnight, but we’re working on that for the future.”
Whether Ball’s changing role is part of a long-term overhaul of the Academy remains to be seen.
But head coach Gus Poyet, who signed a contract extension this summer, is known to be looking at all aspects of the club in order to see how Sunderland could be improved going forward.