England's forgotten man, Michael Ball, earned rave reviews
TheFA.com Exclusive: England's forgotten man, Michael Ball, earned rave reviews on his England debut. Since then he has been out of the public gaze because of a serious knee injury. But now he is back and raring to go as he tells TheFA.com
Michael Ball has needed the comfort of happy memories during the last 16 difficult months.
Laid up with a serious knee tendon injury, Ball could only stay positive by recalling what he had already achieved in his short career - and what he might achieve in the future.
Near the top of the list was his England debut at left-back, in Sven's first match no less, against Spain in February 2001.
At just 21 and playing for his boyhood heroes Everton, Ball earned rave reviews after replacing Chris Powell at half-time.
"My first target was to get a good touch early on," he says. "I remember the ball bouncing just in front of me, I was able to play a one-two and then hit a long ball for Michael Owen.
"I'd played with Mike at the age of 10 for Liverpool boys and then we were at Lilleshall together so I knew exactly the types of runs he made. Those first touches gave me the confidence to go on and do well in the game."
Life hasn't been easy since though. Ball has been affected by knee trouble ever since joining Glasgow Rangers for £6.5million in August 2001 and admits feeling like a spare part as his team-mates battled for supremacy against Celtic.
"I put on a few pounds in weight I must admit, I would come into the training ground on crutches, try and bend my knee and then go off to dinner. It didn't really feel like I had a proper career going.
"I had been feeling this occasional sharp pain in my right knee for a long time but as long as I was playing well it didn't bother me too much. Then after one match against Dundee, I woke up the next morning and the knee had swelled right up.
"I went to America to see Dr Richard Steadman, he said the tendon was so worn away that if I had played one more game on it in that state, I would never have played again."
Ball, still only 23, has been back in training for a few weeks now. Last week he played for a Rangers youngsters XI and his biggest test to date comes on Monday when he will feature in the Old Firm reserve game. "That will be competitive - if I can come through that I would like to think I'll be considered for the first team," he says in his broad Scouse accent.
Despite his injuries, Ball is not short of ambitions for the future - including England. "I don't want to be a one-cap wonder and I don't think I will be. If I can get back to the form I was in before, I don't think it should be a problem getting back into the squad," he says.
"It is a similar injury to the one Michael Mols had at Rangers. People say he's never been the same player since but I am younger and I'm confident I will return as good as I was.
"My first priority is Rangers of course because they paid a lot of money for me and I haven't shown them what I can do. But England is a goal longer-term. People ask if Sven would ever come up to watch Scottish football but I think if your form is good enough for your club, the manager has to take notice.
"My agent Trevor Steven played for England while he was with Rangers and so did Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Gary Stevens and more recently Gazza."
Ball would also love to join the young Mersey Mafia currently infiltrating the England set-up.
Steve Gerrard, Michael Owen, Franny Jeffers and Wayne Rooney are all from our around Liverpool and Ball knows them all.
"Steve and Mike were with me with Liverpool schoolboys, so was Stephen Wright. But I was always a Bluenose and when the chance came to join Everton I had to - it was my dream.
"Before I left the club, the coaches would always point out this 14-year-old kid and say "his name is Wayne, he's going to be a good player". At the time though you hear so much hype about youngsters you don't really take it in. But I watched the England-Turkey game and the whole world knows about Wayne now!"
With Ball on the comeback trail and also due to become a dad for the second time this week, things are looking up.
He was there at the start of the Sven era - his message is don’t write him off joining in again.
Michael Ball was speaking to Joe Bernstein
Did you know: Liverpool's under-11's side featured not only Michael Owen, Steve Gerrard, Stephen Wright and Michael Ball but also West Brom and Wales winger Jason Koumas. "We were a pretty formidable side," recalls Ball.