That’s according to North-East based outlet ChronicleLive, who claim the Black Cats have stepped up their interest in the Arsenal man.
The Northern Ireland international was expected to join Burnley last week - the centre-back even travelling to the North West for a medical - only for the move to break down at the last moment.
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Blackpool and Millwall have also been credited with interest, but it’s claimed the advantage is with Sunderland at this moment in time.
The Gazette understands a return to Millwall, where Ballard spent time on loan last season, is unlikely with other targets lined up, such as Leeds United’s Charlie Cresswell.
It also came as something of a surprise to see Blackpool linked with their former loan star, given they’re likely to have priorities in other positions.
It would also take a hefty fee to prise Ballard away from Arsenal, plus wages, despite the Gunners telling the 22-year-old he’s free to leave.
ChronicleLive also suggest there is interest in Ballard from teams abroad.
Stevenage-born Ballard joined Arsenal's academy at the age of eight but has yet to make a senior appearance for the first-team.
He was instrumental in Blackpool’s promotion from League One during the 2020/21 campaign, making 31 appearances in all competitions, scoring once.
The Seasiders were keen to bring him back for a second season, but he opted to stay in the capital and join Millwall, where he again made 31 appearances as he helped Gary Rowett’s side finish in the top half of the Championship table.