There has been some good news for Southampton fans amidst a drastic drop in Premier League form.
Dom Ballard, the latest exciting prospect from the Southampton Academy, has put pen to paper to extend his stay at the club, signing his first professional contract.
Aged 17, Ballard has scored 26 goals in 41 games this season for Saints at B team and U18 level. He was only signed to his two-year scholarship deal last summer.
That form has led to Ballard being called up to represent England at U17 level and ultimately a professional contract at Southampton while the so-called “bigger” clubs circled.
Ballard has caught the eye of Southampton first team boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, who commented on how positive it is that another promising player from the Saints production line wants to stay on.
“Yes, a young goalscorer, scored 26 goals in 41 games for the B team and under-18s. This is it, we have a lot of very good players in England, young players,” Hasenhuttl said via Hampshire Live. “You have to give them very early the signal, this is the direction we want you to go, and then you have to look how serious and how professional they are.
“Then follow the path and help them when you need to, but you can only show them the way, they have to go the right direction. I think it is a good message that he decided to stay with us and gets the chance here to sign his first professional contract, we will have an eye on him.”
As for a first team debut, that will have to wait for Ballard. Last season, several youth players were handed chances in the first team due to an injury crisis, including Caleb Watts and Kayne Ramsay.
Saints bolstered their squad in the summer with signings as well as letting fewer players go out on loan like Moi Elyounoussi, meaning first team chances for Academy players are less likely these days.
“We will see,” said Hasenhuttl on the chances of Ballard appearing in the first team. “This season it is a little bit tougher for the young lads, last season it was easier. But it should not be easier, the problem is you can only lift a player to the highest level when there are players around them of the highest level.
“Otherwise, you adapt more to a lower level because it doesn’t work. I mean, you can still work with the very high level cognitive exercises we have to make them quicker in the mind, but in the end you should also have quality around them so they can see, ‘okay, you have to be that quick with your decision making’.
“Last season, we had too many academy players and the whole quality of the session was going down and it is much harder to develop them. It is much better to bring in one, two players and that gives you more. This is the reason why we have to show patience, and in the end when the moment comes he will get the chance.”