Ball arrival raises old recruitment questions – Signing
Tuesday, 2nd Jul 2019 19:44 by Clive Whittingham
The sixth new signing of QPR’s busy summer 2019 is Dominic Ball, a player unable to breakthrough at relegated Rotherham but one known to new manager Mark Warburton which can ring alarm bells in this part of the world.
Dominic Ball is a 23-year-old defensively minded player. In rugby league they’d call him a utility back, as he’s been used all across the back line in his career with stints at centre half, full back and defensive central midfield. He arrives on a free transfer from freshly relegated Rotherham on a two year contract, and will presumably be used to cover the first choice players in those three positions this coming season.
Ball is known to Mark Warburton first of all through the Watford academy, where he started his footballing education. Warburton was his coach there, working alongside Dom’s father Tim who was the academy business manager. At 16 he moved to Spurs’ youth set up and featured for the club’s U18s and U21s during the 2013/14 season as well as being named on the bench for Europa League games with Benfica and Partizan and a Premier League win away at Hull City.
His first senior football came on loan at League Two side Cambridge United in the second half of the 2014/15 season. He made nine starts and two sub appearances for the U’s, mainly as a right back. His most successful stint to date came the following season when he reunited with Warburton on a season-long loan deal at Rangers. He was part of the side that won promotion back to the SPL, beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final (a game he started in defence), and lifted the Challenge Cup with Ball part of the starting 11 which beat Peterhead 4-0 in the final. He only made 15 starts in the Scottish Championship along with six sub appearances and a further nine starts in the various cup competitions they competed in that season.
That wasn’t enough to convince Spurs to keep him on and he joined Rotherham ahead of their 2016/17 Championship season for an undisclosed fee. The Millers have been relegated, promoted, and relegated again during his three year contract at the New York Stadium, but Ball has spent all but five months of that period out on various loans. He leaves the Millers permanently this summer with just 14 starts and one sub appearance to his name – all but one of which came in the first half of his first season under first Alan Stubbs and then, briefly, Kenny Jackett. Paul Warne gave him one substitute run out in two and a half years at the helm.
Loan spells for the Welwyn Garden City-born player included six starts and a goal for Peterborough in League One at the end of 2016/17, 11 starts and eight sub appearances in a season long loan deal at SPL side Aberdeen in 2017/18, and then a further 31 starts and nine sub apps for the Scottish side last season – a spell probably best remembered for a horrendous tackle and red card in the first half of the Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic at Hampden Park. He was, nevertheless, a regular in Derek McInnes' side which finished fourth in the SPL.
From 2010 to 2013 Ball was capped by Northern Ireland at U15, U16, U17, U19 and then U21 level but switched allegiance when called for U19 duty in 2014 which was followed by seven outings for the U20s.
“I am at the age now where I have played quite a few games and I am ready to really kick-on with my career. There is no better place for me to do that than QPR. Mark Warburton was my academy manager at Watford from the age of ten to 16 and he took me to Rangers on loan where we had a very successful season. The main thing about the gaffer is the type of football he likes to play and the discipline he shows around the training ground. He plays stylish football and believes that’s the best way to get results. I believe in that as well which is why I am looking forward to working with him again.” -Dominic Ball
“I know Dom very well. I signed him as a young academy player many years ago. He did very well when he went to Spurs and he did very well for us at Glasgow Rangers. He knows how I like the game to be played and he is a really good character on and off the pitch. He will certainly add value to the dressing room. He can play in a variety of positions and I think it is important that we have a number of players who can offer us that flexibility in terms of their positioning.” -Mark Warburton
I’ll start with the usual caveat that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I thought Clint Hill was a past-it favourite of the manager, I thought Joey Barton was worth a punt, I thought Jordan Mutch was a great signing, I thought Steven Caulker was an incredible acquisition. It’s actually better if I coat the newbies off in these pieces than praise them, it seems to boost their chances of success tenfold.
Dominic Ball is a rare example of us signing a player I’ve seen very little of, bar his horrific challenge that left Celtic’s Ryan Christie missing one side of his face and Ball nursing a first half red card in the Scottish Cup semi-final between Celtic and Aberdeen last season. I asked Ross Middleton, who writes our Rotherham stuff whenever we play the Millers, for an opinion and got: “He’s hardly played for us in the three years he was contracted. Early promise but not the manager’s cup of tea. It’d be a strange one to go with the promising ones you’ve got already but some players fit better at other clubs don’t they? Centre back by trade but we tried him at right back. Bit on the smaller side and turned easily but that was a few years ago. Personally don’t think he’s Championship quality.”
But, then again, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve signed a player fans of his previous clubs didn’t rate and he’s gone on to do well for us. Some players just fit at certain clubs, and Mark Warburton has managed Ball both in the Watford academy and during a loan spell at Rangers, so knows him well. As we’ve said previously, Warburton’s career goes one way or the other from here after the manner of his departure from Rangers and a perceived (harshly in my opinion) failure at Nottingham Forest so he needs this to go well and can’t piss about giving jobs to the boys for the sake of it.
It’s a free transfer, presumably on a low wage, albeit on a two-year contract, and at 23 he’s no age really. We need to replace nine first team regulars from last season (Bidwell, Lynch, Cameron, Wszolek, Cousins, Wells, Hemed, Freeman, Luongo) with precious little money to do it, so free transfer 23-year-olds known to the manager are gold dust. Full back, and particularly centre back, is an area our U23s seems to be producing precious few options for cover in – drill through Leistner, Barbet and Hall (who’s fragile) and you get to… Giles Phillips? Cover is needed, which presumably is what Ball’s been brought here to be. We’re also getting our business done quickly, quietly and efficiently, hopefully meaning there will be no repeat of last August where we tackle the first few games woefully short in key areas.
What worries me about it isn’t Dominic Ball specifically, who I haven’t seen enough to comment on, but the way we’re signing players this summer. Liam Kelly, Lee Wallace and now Ball all played for Warburton previously and while Barbet didn’t overlap with his time at Brentford that signing had been identified by the recruitment team at Griffin Park when Warburton was in charge there and was just followed through with by his successor. Matt Smith and Luke Amos are new, but have made it clear they’re here because of the manager – which in a way is great, because we’ve got a forward-thinking, innovative coach in charge now who Premier League clubs seem like they’re going to trust with their best and brightest which can only help. But in another, this is a problem.
‘What manager wants manager gets’ does not work at QPR, because manager doesn’t tend to stick around for too long. I like Warburton, I think it’s the best appointment we could have made in our circumstance and from the list of potential candidates, and we all hope it goes really, really well and he’s here for years and years. But what if it doesn’t and he isn’t? While accepting everything you could throw back at me about wages and age, I worry about us waving Matt Smith off to Millwall quite so readily with a bit of a shrug and “doesn’t suit Warburton’s style of play” because you can just hear it now, come December, if we’ve binned Warburton after a bad start, whoever the new manager is saying we “lack presence up front” and “looking for an old fashioned target man in January”.
Similarly, with Ball, he’s a player that this particular manager sees something in that others don’t – Paul Warne could find no use for him in a Rotherham team relegated from this division twice during his time there, a Rotherham team not blessed with a lot of options or quality in any position. Were Warburton not to succeed, not to stay, Ball looks like exactly the sort of player that’ll just be kicking around in the background, picking up money, not playing any football, because the previous manager fancied him and the new one doesn’t. We’ve had this before – Warnock signings abandoned by Hughes, Hughes signings bombed out by Redknapp, Hasselbaink signings ignored by Holloway. Although this one is far, far cheaper, if you just allow whoever your manager is to sign who he likes, and then you change your manager as often as we do, you end up with a bloated squad, full of layers and layers of half dozen players each signed by a different manager for a different purpose.
We have a head of recruitment, Gary Penrice, and a director of football, Les Ferdinand, specifically to mitigate against that don’t we? I wonder where they are in this signing in particular, and the summer in general. We talk about learning lessons, but have we really? Time will tell.
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