If the returning Wayne Rooney was a statement of Everton’s ambition, the £25 million (Dh120m) buy from Burnley could become the more significant signing
Michael Keane to learn under Everton manager Ronald Koeman
At Goodison Park on Thursday, the focus will be on the man from Manchester United. The cameras will probably be concentrating on the Old Trafford old boy. He was a teammate of Paul Pogba. Now he will be playing against Slovakian side MFK Ruzomberok.
Not just Wayne Rooney, however, but also Michael Keane. If the returning local was a statement of Everton’s ambition, their headline signing, the face of a their summer recruitment drive, the £25 million (Dh120m) buy from Burnley could become the more significant signing.
There is a short-termism to the reunion with Rooney, a 31-year-old player hired on a two-year deal. Keane, contracted until 2022, could exert a greater impact. Rooney may have the stiff task of replacing the departed, prolific Romelu Lukaku. Keane should take over from captain Phil Jagielka.
The graduate of United’s youth system is the one that got away, joining Burnley in the chaos of the early weeks of Louis van Gaal’s reign. “Sir Alex Ferguson leaving harmed my chances really,” he told this observer. He felt he could have made it at United. “There was certainly never a doubt in my mind,” he said. Instead, they considered buying him back. Unlike Rooney, he could have been in Jose Mourinho’s squad this season. Unlike Rooney, his career is on an upward curve. Unlike Rooney, he has been capped by England in 2017.
But perhaps the more pertinent comparison comes in the centre of defence. It may be premature to brand someone a future Everton captain before he has played a competitive game for the club, yet Keane has the potential to prove Jagielka’s successor in more ways than one. He shares the same sense of responsibility. He speaks openly, perhaps a little too much, but in a way that provides a welcome contrast with many of his peers. He is eloquent and approachable, the sort of character a club requires.
Jagielka joined Everton at 24. He has given them a decade’s service, spread over 349 games. Keane is 24 now. He carries the same promise. Both were born in Greater Manchester. Both even served a grounding at right-back, though Jagielka played there at first-team level and Keane in United’s FA Youth Cup-winning side.
Neither was fast-tracked to the top. Keane was overshadowed by his twin brother, the forward Will, in United’s youth team. He improved most under the tutelage of United’s long-time Under 18s manager, Paul McGuinness. “I wasn’t full time – I was a scholar – and I went in after school and did sessions with him twice a week,” he said. As McGuinness has admitted, another club may have released Keane. United did not.
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That commitment to improvement was evident at Burnley, where his progress was so swift that he was shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year award. Behind the scenes at Turf Moor, there was a recognition that Keane had outgrown the club. “A Rolls Royce,” was how one influential voice used to describe him. For many fans, he was the best defender they had seen play for the club.
Now one who passed A-Levels in physics, chemistry and biology has to study again. Some 40 miles separate Turf Moor from Goodison Park. They are further apart in philosophies. He will join a club where passing has greater importance. After working for a no-nonsense centre-back, in Sean Dyche, he has been bought by a more cultured counterpart, Ronald Koeman.
“He’s got all the experience of playing in my position,” Keane told the Liverpool Echo earlier this month. “He’s someone you can learn a lot from.”
Keane’s capacity to learn should serve Everton well as he illustrates he can assume the mantle of some of their senior citizens.