Transfer Talk: Clubs set sights on Gunners youngster Ballard
Arsenal defender Daniel Ballard turned plenty of heads while on loan at Millwall last season.
The Hale End academy graduate shone brightly in the Championship — but competition is fierce in North London.
With Ben White, Gabriel, William Saliba and Rob Holding ahead of him in the pecking order at the Emirates, the Gunners are open to offers for the centre-back this summer.
Ahead of Northern Ireland’s clash with Kosovo tonight, we take a look at which club could land the talented youngster.
Ballard played a significant part in Millwall’s ninth-placed finish last term, while on loan at The Den.
The 22-year-old made 31 league appearances for the Lions, who conceded just 45 times in 2021-22 — only promoted trio Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest let in fewer.
Manager Gary Rowett will hope that Ballard’s positive experience in Bermondsey could give them an edge when pursuing his signature.
However, he was not too positive about the chances of striking a deal when speaking last month.
He said: "He [Ballard] has done really well. If Dan was available again we would certainly welcome him back.
"But I don’t expect he will be [coming back to Millwall] because I think Arsenal will probably seek a different type of challenge for him. It’s what those type of clubs tend to do.
"He’s had a good season in the Championship. Will they look for something else? I don’t know."
Millwall are not the only side targeting the Stevenage native.
Fellow Championship outfit QPR are reportedly keen on Ballard, as new head coach Michael Beale prepares to revamp his squad.
With Dion Sanderson returning to Wolves following the expiry of his loan deal and Yoann Barbet departing on a free, the R’s are in need of another central defender and will hope to lure Ballard across London.
Like QPR, Sheffield United are short of options in the centre of defence and will have been casting admiring glances at Ballard, given his eye-catching performances for Millwall.
The Blades play with three at the back — and with loanees Filip Uremovic, Charlie Goode and Ben Davies departing, they are desperately short of cover.
Ballard regularly plays in a back three for Northern Ireland, making him an attractive prospect for manager Paul Heckingbottom.
Relegated Burnley are also thought to be keen on the 13-cap international — and despite no longer being a top-flight team, the Clarets will view themselves as an attractive destination.
James Tarkowski and Ben Mee are reportedly ready to leave on free transfers this summer and Nathan Collins could well attract top-flight interest in the coming months.
Ballard could be the ideal first piece of the Lancashire side’s defensive puzzle, as they target an immediate return to the Premier League.
Stoke boss Michael O’Neill will hope his position as a former Northern Ireland manager will prove to be an advantage in the Potters’ pursuit of Ballard.
They have just lost two centre-halves in Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Liam Moore — and will be aiming for a better campaign next term, after a disappointing 14th-placed finish in 2021-22.
Adding the Arsenal prospect to a stable of centre-backs including the fit again Harry Souttar, Ben Wilmot and veteran Phil Jagielka could significantly improve their rearguard.