THE proudest player at the recent Manchester derby may just have been one who did not kick a ball in anger.
Amidst the controversy, the spectacle and the passion, it almost slipped by unnoticed that a 19-year-old, wearing the number 53 shirt, was sitting on the City bench.
Just to be involved was a dream come true for Ball, a lifelong City fan who earned his chance by netting four times in the first three reserve outings of the season.
Whitefield-born Ball first came to the notice of City fans when he nervelessly tucked away a penalty against Chelsea in front of a crowd of more than 19,000 at Eastlands to secure the FA Youth Cup and keep up his goal-a-game record in the competition.
His brush with the derby came about because of a striker crisis with Emmanuel Adebayor suspended and Roque Santa Cruz, Robinho and Benjani all injured.
But his former Academy boss Jim Cassell said the reward was well-deserved and, with Vlad Weiss chalking up two first-team appearances this season, proves the Academy products can still elbow their way into contention amid the glut of superstar signings.
"David has been with us since he was nine, and I am delighted for him," said Cassell, a month into his new role of developing a parallel City academy in Abu Dhabi.
"He is getting better and stronger, and the chance to play and train with world-class players rubs off on any young player who wants to learn.
"David's family are members of the Prestwich and Whitefield branch of the Supporters Club, and he's been on the scene a long time.
"He knows he has a long way to go but he has great movement, good touch and has always been able to score goals.
"He was always effective at youth level but I am sure he realises he needs more power and strength when you move up to the senior ranks.
"He is a Manchester boy playing for Manchester City, something we set out to do with the Academy when we started 12 years ago."
Weiss, whose dazzling wing play was also a feature of the 2008 Youth Cup triumph, is a reflection of the fact that City, as well as recruiting at their roots, are also intent on finding gems wherever they pop up on the planet.
Spotted by the Academy's head of recruitment Barry Pointon while playing for his native Slovakia in a Northern Ireland youth tournament, Weiss was brought to Manchester with the blessing of his dad and namesake, who is coach of the full national team.
The 19-year-old also scored in that FA Youth Cup final. He has already picked up three international caps under his dad's guidance, produced a dazzling performance in Slovakia's recent win over the Czech Republic and made a mug of United starlet Jonny Evans to set up the opener in the 2-0 win in Northern Ireland.
He made his City debut as a sub against Bolton on the final day of last season, and also had a cameo performance against Fulham in the Carling Cup win last week.
"Vlad has had to adapt to the greater intensity of training with the first team, and the fact that fewer mistakes are allowed," added Cassell.
"But he is a totally dedicated young man, exceptionally talented and hasn't caused us an ounce of trouble since he came here.
"Because of his talent, he can't always produce game in, game out, but as he matures he will have a fantastic future.
"Nothing fazes him. Now he needs to blend his natural talent with playing like a professional and there are elements of that he needs to work on. But he has the ability to run at people and dribble, and that is a rare talent in the game these days. People who can create, in the way Vlad does, are invaluable in any walk of life."