Tuesday 21 January 2020

Returning Keane aims to prove point at Old Trafford

Man United v Burnley, Live, Sky Sports 5, 3.0

Michael Keane (left) celebrates alongside Burnley team-mate George Boyd. Picture: Getty Images
Michael Keane (left) celebrates alongside Burnley team-mate George Boyd. Picture: Getty Images

James Ducker

Michael Keane was at Jesse Lingard's house this week, gleefully winding up his former Manchester United team-mate about a plan to copy the winger's "dab" goal celebration if he scores for Burnley at Old Trafford today .

"I said that to him just to take the p***," Keane said, laughing at the thought of himself trying to pull off the latest dance craze in front of 76,000 people. "Dabbing? It's stupid isn't it? A lot of fans love it. Some hate it. I certainly couldn't pull it off. I won't be doing that."

More than five years have passed since Keane and his twin brother Will, now with Hull City, won the FA Youth Cup in the same United side as Lingard and Paul Pogba. Lingard stayed at the club, Pogba left for Juventus a year later, but returned this summer as the world's most expensive footballer, and there are plenty of United fans who would happily have Keane back, too, frustrated that the centre-half went in the first place.

In the 22 months since Keane departed for Burnley for £2m, he has established himself as one of the Premier League's best young defenders, earned an England call-up and been the subject of a £15m bid from champions Leicester City. Now Chelsea are sniffing around the 23-year-old.

At a time when United have just lost Eric Bailly to injury for two months and crave another centre-half, Keane's presence for Burnley at Old Trafford this afternoon will be a reminder of one that got away.

"It's nice to hear that some fans wish I was still there," Keane said. "When I left United, that was one of the things I had in my mindset - I wanted to prove them wrong, prove that I was good enough to play earlier. That is the sort of stuff that drives me every day.

"With all the help I've had here at Burnley, I think that is what I have done. I definitely don't regret leaving but, at the same time, I think had I stayed it could have been different.

"Had I had the option I probably would have stayed and tried my luck, but I think leaving has been the best thing for me. Regular games have helped and hopefully when I go back I can put in a good performance."

He has certainly produced plenty of those this season, alongside Ben Mee, a product of Manchester City's youth academy. Keane is second among the league's defenders for headed clearances, Mee is seventh; the pair are joint third for clearances made, joint 10th for aerial duels won and only Hull's Curtis Davies has made more blocks than Keane's 13.

If Burnley stay up, and wins against Liverpool and Everton suggest they may be a decent bet to do so, much will hinge on Keane and Mee.

Looking at Keane now, all 6ft 3in of him, it is hard to believe that only five years ago he was just 5ft 5in - at 18 - and still a right-back.

"They do X-rays on your wrists when you are younger and somehow they can tell how tall you are going to be so they always knew I would grow," Keane said. "It just took time.

"I would watch myself play and I used to look so gangly. I didn't look natural on the ball at all, but through training every day you get through it.

"I was never as technically gifted as other players, but when I was 18 I sort of turned a leaf and felt I was one of the best players there."

By Keane's admission, Will was always the more talented brother, a striker with the predatory instincts of Ruud van Nistelrooy.

"We had one game when we were 10 where we won 15-0," Keane said. "Will scored 12 and I scored three. I was playing centre-mid and got all his assists as well."

Being a twin was not always easy, though. For example, on the night Will discovered he had won a professional contract with United, Michael was only offered terms as a part-time scholar.

Yet, they remain extremely close, and Michael - as articulate and engaging a footballer as you could wish to meet - was the first to be there for his brother when Will suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury that would rule him out of the entire 2012-13 campaign and mark the beginning of the end of his United career.

Michael's own United dream came crashing down on a forgettable August night in 2014 when League One side MK Dons beat United 4-0 in the League Cup. He left on loan for Burnley a week later and before long had signed permanently, but there is little cause to look back now.

His focus is on United and, for 90 minutes, upsetting his mates, Lingard and Pogba. Pogba has struggled since his return in that £89m deal, but Keane has no doubts the France midfielder will shine.

"I saw him for dinner one night and he was the same guy he's always been, really down to earth and funny," Keane said. "His fame hasn't changed him at all." (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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