That is according to a report from ChronicleLive who claim that Ballard’s proposed move to Burnley has broken down, with Sunderland now said to be leading the race for his signature.
As per the report, the 22-year-old was set to sign with the Clarets and even travelled to Lancashire for a medical before the switch foundered due to both sides failing to agree terms.
As such, it is said that Sunderland have stepped up their interest in the Arsenal defender but will face competition from Championship rivals Millwall and Blackpool, with the defensive asset having been on loan at both clubs.
“Ball player” Ballard, as he has been dubbed by journalist Josh Bunting, spent last season on loan at Millwall, with the £1.8m-rated defender establishing himself as a key man in Gary Rowett’s backline.
Ballard made an impact at Millwall, placing himself amongst the top three players in the squad in four different categories.
Most notably, his average of 31.4 accurate passes, 3.1 accurate long balls, 1.7 interceptions and 3.6 clearances per 90 have made him a sought after asset in England’s second-tier and in Rowett’s defence-first system, helped to guide the the Lions to become the sixth-best defence in the league, conceding just 45 goals at a goals conceded per match rate of 1.0.
His 31 Championship appearances will come as a big boost in a newly-promoted Sunderland side who will no doubt face a tough test in their survival bid for the upcoming campaign.
And with his 25 appearances in League One the season prior, it now means that the Northern Ireland international has two full seasons of first-team football under his belt.
He can be effective for a defence that ranked as the tenth-best in League One last season, conceding an average 1.2 goals conceded per match.
And if Sunderland can get this deal wrapped up, Neil will no doubt love him.