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Why Not Kevin Ball For Sunderland Chief? Why Not!

Whilst Sunderland's manager search goes on, one man is bringing a much needed calm to the madhouse and knuckling down to business. Giving him the job on a permanent basis isn't as bonkers as many claim.

Richard Sellers

Frustrated younger Sunderland fans may be surprised to know that the early nineties on Wearside provided a far grimmer footballing reality to inhabit than the one now. Actually, in a purely sporting sense, the problems plaguing the club then were much the same as the ones that do now.

Of course, it was all happening at a lower level of the English game, but the club lurched from one manager to the next in quick succession, utterly unable to break free of annual relegation dogfights.

I don't mention that as a springboard to some patronising 'when I were a lad' narrative, by the way. The club has moved on to an extent where by expectation demands considerably more than it did back then.

The reason I mention it because throughout it all, throughout the change and the struggle, throughout the many different managerial tenures, one utterly unbreakable force stood tall and survived - Kevin Ball.

Ball wasn't an especially talented player. I am sure he'd be the first to admit that. He morphed from 'compact dogged centre half' to 'midfield battler'. Nice words of ultimately faint praise; the kind of terms we attach to likeable, limited footballers as an act of kindness more than anything.

But it was never really his football that attracted you, and the plethora of managers who presided over his Sunderland stay, to Kevin Ball. It wasn't even his thunderous tackling that could - and once did - rattle a crossbar from 30 yards away.

He simply had that intangible quality that all leaders do. Knowing he was there provided a sense of comfort, security and calm. Whatever else happened, you were certain no one would get away with anything and there was a warrior with a common cause in your ranks.

From the second he left the club to squeeze out what precious life remained in his playing career, you knew it was simply a matter of time until he returned. Kevin Ball devoting himself to any other club but Sunderland just seemed a ludicrous concept.

So it proved. Since coming back to the north east he has forged a reputation as a fine coach at the Sunderland academy whilst amassing qualifications and honing his tactical nous in charge of the club's under-21 side.

This weekend, he will once again take those skills into the Premier League when he takes caretaker charge of the Black Cats against Liverpool. If he gets his wish it won't be for the last time either, having publicly expressed his desire to be considered for the role on a full-time basis.

Ball isn't the big name than fans crave, but why shouldn't he be considered?

He certainly can't be judged on his previous caretaker spell the best part of a decade ago with an atrociously bad squad and, even if he could, it should be pointed out that he out-performed the man he replaced anyway.

Neither should the lack of a track record be held against him either. At one time or another, back when managers tended to live or die by their transfer prowess, there was something of a stigma attached to coaches stepping into the top job.

These days, however, there are examples of success stories just about everywhere you look. Steve Clarke, Chris Hughton, Sami Hyypia, Phillip Cocu, Remi Garde, Christophe Galtier and Jens Keller to name but a few. SC Frieburg's Christian Streich, who rose to the job of head coach at the Mage Solar Stadion following a distinguished spell as part of the youth coaching staff, is Kicker's current German manager of the season despite there being two Champions League finalists to pick from.

I'm not saying that history offers many guarantees and you could pick out just as many names of coaches who have failed to make the step up, but since when has appointing new managers been a safe business? Martin O'Neill was supposed to be safe and proven.

All I'm saying is that his name shouldn't be summarily dismissed from the equation based upon him not being able to point at a track record or a strong public profile. We shouldn't become obsessed with vanity, especially when it is in danger of getting in the way of the thing the Sunderland madhouse probably needs more than anything right now - sanity.

When the dust has settled, I don't think that Kevin Ball will be named as Paolo Di Canio's replacement. If I am perfectly honest he probably wouldn't be my top choice either. But should he be granted his wish then I certainly wouldn't be disappointed either.

Like in my days spent as a youngster in the Clockstand paddocks, at least I'd feel secure in the knowledge that we had one of our own in a position of influence; a figure who shared our respect and love of the club whilst restoring some identity and soul to the place.

As far as I can see, that is one more guarantee than any of the other candidates can offer.

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