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Everton Past Player Profile
MICHAEL BALL
Defender

Michael Ball  FACTS
Born Formby, 2 October 1979
Height 5' - 10" (178 cm)
Joined Everton as a trainee in 1994
Debut Sub: v Tottenham Hotspur (h), 12 April 1997
Full: v West Ham United (a), 19 April 1997
Left Everton to join Glasgow Rangers in August 2001 (£6.5M)
Finalé v Sunderland (h), 19 May 2001
Nicknames The German, Iceman
Honours England Schoolboys, U-18.
 PREVIOUS CAREER
 Seasons  Club  Apps  Gls
1990-1994 Liverpool (Juniors) - -
1996-1997 Everton Reserves 19 (1) 1
1997-1998 Everton Reserves 5 (1) -

 STRENGTHS  WEAKNESSES
  • Excellent with his head
  • Good at set pieces
  • Long throw-ins
  • Good athlete
  • Confident, strong, and stylish
  • He's a left-back, not a midfielder
  • Tends to come inside too often
  • Being wasted in midfield...
  • ...and now suffering burn-out!
  • Not as tall as some people thought
 BIOSKETCH
 
Michael Ball spent two years (1994-96) at the FA's National School in Lilleshall, where he developed into an excellent defender.  Comfortable at either centre-back or left-back, he won more 15 caps for England Schoolboys. 

A boyhood Evertonian, he joined the club after spending 5 years at Liverpool.  He is an excellent header of the ball – a constructive player who possesses a wide range of skills.  He is also very dangerous from set pieces.

After a few games warming the subs bench, Michael Ball's childhood dream finally came true in April, 1997.  He came on against Spurs when Terry Phelan got injured.  In the next match, he became the youngest player to appear in a Merseyside derby when he came on for Craig Short against Liverpool

Although his first start came against West Ham, he was substituted by the noticeably shorter Nick Barmby.  In his one and only full game in that first season, against Chelsea, Ball showed some assured touches, happy to put his foot on the ball and look for options; he appears to have a bit of a footballing brain, compounded by an unfortunate wasting disease that appears to be affecting his bone structure.

In the 1997-98 season, Michael Ball took his opportunities well.  A great performance and a goal when thrown in against Arsenal, was followed by an extended spell on the subs bench where his posture suffered badly.  After Christmas 1997 and the departure of Andy Hinchcliffe, a succession of confident, assured and mature performances – at the tender age of 18 – showed that Michael Ball was imposing his physical size and presence in the Premiership, as he claimed Everton's left-back slot as his own.  

Early in the 1998-99 season, his performances merely confirmed the excellent prospects for this high-quality player.  That was until Walter Smith decided that young Michael was such a star, he could easily adapt to a new role – that of left-midfielder.  This change has not been a total success, and Smith's selection shenanigans with Everton's back line are beginning to look like a misguided game of musical chairs that has lead in Ball's case to premature compression of the spine.

By the middle of the 1998-9 season, the plight of Michael Ball became progressively more serious.  It seemed his heart was no longer in it, and he visibly shrank under the strain.  He didn't know where he was supposed to be playing, what he is supposed to be doing, or how tall he was supposed to be.  Was this a case of burn-out, shrink-down, or was Walter Smith hell-bent on reducing one of England's brightest young prospects to a diminutive of his former self?

No real rest or respite for Ball by the end of the season.  Just a constant stream of irritating speculation linking him with radical spine-rebuilding surgery, and an imminent big-money move to Arsenal or Manchester United.  But the not-so-tall blue-blooded Ball made it clear he was not for moving... although he did find all the scuttle-butt somewhat belittling... 

Michael Ball's fourth season, 1999-2000 proved to be just as problematic as he struggled to perform consistently and definitely suffered a loss of stature.  Walter Smith preferred the solidity of David Unsworth at left back, so Ball was occasionally pushed forward – somewhat reluctantly – into midfield, and it didn't really work.  The extra running also seemed to have an effect on his joints, compressing some of his vital cartilages by as much as half an inch.  Whether he can fulfill his enormous potential at Everton after succumbing to these lower levels is now questionable – Walter Smith is clearly unconvinced, and appears to have put away his tape measure... 

Ball was looking very ordinary at either left back or wing back until – because of injuries, NOT a decision of Walter – he had to be played at centre back and looked a different player again.

After playing second fiddle to Unsworth and Naysmith, he moved to centre back and proved a revelation.  The likes of Fowler, Shearer, Hasselbaink, Kanu and many more were snuffed out by Bally and he was called up to the full England squad on two occasions.  And for many, he was proclaimed Everton's Player of the Season – the now acknowledged but unbelievable kiss of death...

Despite having two years still left on his contract, Michael Ball was persuaded by his family and advisors to press Everton for a new contract on the basis of his excellent recent performances.  Unfortunately, this move played directly into Walter Smith's powerful hands.  Smith, who's had made no secret of his annoyance with Ball in the past for various misdemeanours, told the Everton Board that he would not play Michael Ball this season, and recommended a quick sale.  

Ball's public comments made it clear he loved Everton and had no intention of leaving, but his poor relationship with the dour Scotsman effectively sealed his fate when the Club terminated contract negotiations abruptly and placed the extremely promising youngster on the transfer list.  An offer from Middlesbrough was rejected before an arrangement was reached with Smith's old club and Ball was eventually offloaded for a rather small fee of £6.5M.

But life at Rangers was not so good as they struggled to figure out Ball's knee problem, eventually sending him for surgery.  During his long recovery, Michael Ball mused about the possibility that pain-killing injections while at Everton contributed to his current.  Ball says he was never offered the opportunity of corrective surgery on Merseyside, and instead was forced to continue playing with only pain-killers to shut out the pain. 

He admitted: "When I was at Goodison I never got the injury sorted because I was playing in all the games.  I had two injections there but they didn't work, which was a bit disappointing.  I regret not getting the problem fixed earlier but when doctors are telling you certain things you listen.  Everton didn't think the problem was that serious and I continued to play on — but that just made it worse." 

This is what Ball told Patrick Barclay of the Sunday Telegraph in 2006:

''I'd had trouble with the patella tendon at Everton for about 18 months, on and off, but wasn't the type to make a big thing about injuries and the physio just told me to do stretches.  When I mentioned it again, Walter Smith let me off training during the week and the knee felt better.  But, looking back, I think this was just hiding the problem.  So were the injections in the middle of the season and at the end. They helped me get a move to Rangers — but they knackered me.  When I flew to Colorado to visit Mr Steadman [Richard Steadman, a surgeon so intimate with the knees of the world's athletes that he is enrolled in the US National Ski Hall Of Fame], he ordered an operation.  He told me I was one game away from losing my career because there was just one thin tendon left and, if that had gone, it would have taken years to rebuild the knee.  The rehab was said to be five to 12 months but I'd been warned that, in about 30 per cent of cases, a second operation was needed.  In all I lost 18 months, during which Rangers completed a double, then won a treble.  Then Alex McLeish came in and I started playing.  Last season we won the League, on top of the League Cup, and I felt there were rewards for all the hard work and frustration.''

His career at Rangers continued to be dogged with injury, and he did not get on too well with Dick Advocaat, but by 2004, he was making regular appearances fro the Old Firm side and approaching the magic 60-game mark that would give Everton another £½M on top.  However, Rangers incredibly balked at making the payment, threatening to sideline the lad rather than meet their contractual obligations.  After much posturing in the media, some sort of agreement was hammered out between Rangers and Everton just before the January 2005 transfer window to enable Ball to continue to play at Ibrox. 

Rumours suggest that the deal involves Rangers and Ball each paying Everton around £4k per game for the next 30 games Ball plays for Rangers, totaling just half of the £500k owed under contract.  No official confirmation of such rumours was ever forthcoming... and Michael Ball eventually left Rangers for PSV Eindhoven in a strange deadline-day deal at the end of August 2005. 

 Read an excellent Interview with Michael Ball and an article from the Electronic Telegraph

 EVERTON CAREER STATISTICS
Season Squad
Number
League
Apps(sub)
League
Goals
Cup
Apps(sub)
Cup
Goals
TOTAL
Apps(sub)
TOTAL
Goals
1996-97 25  2 (3) 0 0 (0) 0  2 (3) 0
1997-98 25 21 (4) 1 2 (1) 0 23 (5) 1
1998-99 3 36 (1) 3 6 (1) 0 42 (2) 3
1999-2k 3 14 (11) 1 3 (1) 0 17 (12) 1
2000-01 12 29 (0) 3 3 (1) 0 32 (1) 1

Totals: 102 (19) 8 14 (4) 0 116 (23) 8

Last updated: 01 December 2008