As part of a weekly piece, I’d like to reflect on players who should have been better for us – with everything that’s went on in the past 5 years, and the barrels we’ve scraped in terms of players in the shirt, we may even find that some of these “failures” will be seen in a different light!
This week, the second Rangers player I ever met in a random situation – Michael Ball.
Signed for £6.5m from Everton by Dick Advocaat, a left-back coming into a squad that already contained players like Arthur Numan and Tony Vidmar, Ball represented our real profligacy at that time in many ways. He was certainly a highly rated youngster but, he was also a player who didn’t truly fit in with how Advocaat wanted to play, and it seemed to be a signing we made purely as a statement – a kind of “look how strong we are, we can break the transfer record on a player who’s a prospect rather than a finished article”. In all, he made fewer than 80 appearances for us, and left for £500k after only truly contributing for a season at most.
Ball was unlucky though, with a serious injury early in this Rangers career which in truth, he never really made a great recovery from. In the second of our games against Celtic that season, he made the biggest splash of his first couple of years, by swearing at Advocaat as he was substituted, resulting in a fine but, it was probably a real sign of the problems we were having in the dressing room at that point, which we never fully appreciated. His injury meant he barely featured for the manager who signed him, missing the entirety of his second season at the club.
My memories of Ball aren’t the best – I remember him as a rather limited left-back who would have been better as a centre-half, but was seen as just a bit too small to play there in British football. He seemed to love a long ball into the channel, wasn’t one for getting forward to any great effect and looked like one of those fullbacks who never seemed to bust a gut to get back into position or track runners (this used to wind me up no end!). Of his two goals for the club, I’m convinced I can remember a cracking free-kick, but I can’t say for certain who he scored it against!
Some may have better memories of him than me. He won Player of the Month when he came back from injury at the start of the season and was part of the team who won the league in the second “Helicopter Sunday” with the famous win against Hibs as that lot crumbled at Fir Park. He certainly took a good set-piece, although not from the scoring perspective, and his attitude towards the club has always been good.
MORE RANGERS STORIES
It is fair to say, though, that judgments of Ball are swayed by what was a huge transfer fee for him. He never truly justified the outlay, be it due to injury or the club being reluctant to play him so as not to trigger an appearance fee. He was part of a squad who won a league and League Cup in 2004/5, but the transfer fee dispute limited his appearances. When such a big amount (a record fee for us at the time) is spent on a player, instant success is expected, and I don’t believe we were ever going to get that with Michael Ball even if injuries hadn’t derailed him. Our squad was starting to struggle under Advocaat, and he was a young man making his first real transfer as a footballer – it was a big ask. In reality, he probably wasn’t miles away in ability from a player like Papac, who was similar in style as a full-back, but the big Bosnian was a £450k signing who paid that back tenfold with his contributions, whilst Ball’s bad luck with injuries and contractual situations meant he was never going to get the chance to justify his price tag, whether he had the ability or not.
Overall, Ball had a decent career. Trophies with us and PSV Eindhoven, played in the Old Firm, Merseyside and Manchester derbies (for all the teams in blue), capped for England in a friendly – he can certainly say he had more than most players in terms of experiences and would have had even more if injuries hadn’t affected him at key times.
Last week, we spoke about Dragan Mladenovic, and it’s certainly not the case that Ball should be seen in the same light as him when it comes to his time at Rangers. Ball gave us 5 years, Dragan about 5 minutes. However, he certainly never justified the fee paid for him for various reasons, and as such comes under the category of “what should have been”.
Do you have any specific Michael Ball memories? Tweet us at @rangersnewsuk with those or any players you’d like to remember!