SUNDERLAND have completed their first signing of the summer with defender Daniel Ballard joining on the three-year deal from Premier League Arsenal.

The move sees the Black Cats bolster their thin defensive ranks with Ballard joining Bailey Wright and Danny Batth as their first-team centre-backs.

Despite never making a first-team appearances for the Gunners, he has shown plenty of promise in his young career to date. Here is what Sunderland fans should know about the club’s latest acquisition.

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Ballard was once released from Arsenal’s academy but earned his way back in

It could have been so different for the centre back. Ballard was released from the Gunners academy as a schoolboy and subsequently went on trail for Southampton. After that ended in disappointment when he suffered a broken ankle, he linked up with his hometown club Stevenage in an attempt to rebuild his promising career.

One phonecall from Andries Jonker, the head of Arsenal’s academy, and he was able to rejoin the Gunners to feature for the Under-18’s in a friendly against Bayern Munich. From there, he penned himself a two-year scholarship.

Despite calls from the Arsenal faithful to be handed a first-team debut, Ballard has never been handed that opportunity.

He’s shown leadership by wearing the captain’s armband

Despite his turbulent spell in Arsenal’s academy, he was handed the captain’s armband after his return to the club.

He led the Gunners side to the FA Youth Cup final where he scored in the semi final against Blackpool. However, they would go on to lose the two-legged final against Chelsea.

He has likened himself to two former Northern Ireland team mates

He told the Belfast Telegraph: “I would describe myself as a Jonny Evans or a Gareth McAuley. I look up to those players who have played a lot of games in the Premier League.”

At the time, Ballard was playing for Northern Ireland Under 21’s and was handed his first senior call-up at the age of 19. Since then, he’s gone on to earn 15 caps and score two goals. Despite coming from Stevenage, he is able to feature for Northern Ireland through his mother’s heritage.

Michael O’Neill said Ballard had the potential to carry on from the likes of McAuley and Aaron Hughes once their international careers finished and he has stepped straight into their shoes.

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Ballard made lasting impression on Seasiders – and got them out of League One

After a troublesome loan spell with Swindon Town, Ballard was loaned to League One side Blackpool from October until the end of January to gain further first-team experience.

Ballard impressed the Tangerines with four clean sheets and his loan deal was extended until the end of the season. Manager Neil Critchley described him as a ‘leader with real character and personality on the pitch;

The youngster would go on to play a prominent role in the club’s climb up the League One table featuring 30 times in total. He played the full 90 minutes as Blackpool achieved promotion to the Championship beating Lincoln City 2-1 in the final at Wembley. Ballard played alongside Black Cats midfielder Elliot Embleton who was on loan at Bloomfield Road at the time.

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Ballard made the step up with the Lions - and they wanted him back

A loan spell at Millwall was next for Ballard and once again, he made a lasting impression.

Establishing himself as a Championship defender, he played 33 games for Gary Rowett’s side in a season where Millwall took their chase for the Championship play-offs to the final day. They ended up finishing eighth in the table.

Rowett has been on record declaring his desire to re-sign the centre back this summer. He said: “Would we want to bring Dan Ballard back to the club at a price that we felt was right for us? Of course we would. But Arsenal have got a young player and they might have different ideas. The point is they may be open to it. We’d certainly be keen if there was an opportunity because he performed so well last year.”

Despite Millwall’s interest, Ballard has opted to join the Black Cats this summer and is expected to put pen-to-paper on a three-year deal on Wearside.