If only away games counted in this Premier League season, Burnley would be adrift at the bottom of the table with only four points. They have the worst away record in the division and are yet to win on the road, but the Clarets are in a fairly comfortable position in the real table. Indeed, they are probably only a point or two away from preparing for another season in the top flight.
That has a lot to do with their home form, of course. In contrast to their position at rock bottom of the away table, Sean Dyche’s team rank sixth when it comes to home form. Fending off competition from Manchesters City and United below. Their 32 points picked up at Turf Moor alone would still be enough to see them with a four-point cushion between themselves and the relegation zone.
Turf Moor is a fortress at the moment, and one of the main reasons for that is the defensive organisation that Sean Dyche has been able to instil in his team. And because of that form, defender Michael Keane looks set to join one of the Premier League’s big names this summer, possibly in the form of a return to Manchester United or even a move to Tottenham Hotspur.
His recent inclusion in the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist is a testament to just how well Keane has settled back into life in the Premier League. His only other previous experience in the top flight came two seasons ago when Burnley were relegated at the first time of asking. Aside from that, his sole league appearance for Manchester United came under Louis van Gaal in 2014, when he came on as a substitute for Chris Smalling. His last game was in the humiliating 4-0 defeat at the hands of MK Dons just days later.
BREAKING: Michael Keane will leave Burnley at the end of the season, according to Sky sources.
— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) April 20, 2017
If Keane does leave Burnley this summer – as is looking increasingly likely – his move won’t just be a return towards the top of the English game, though. It would be more than that: it would make Keane one of the few examples of players who have failed to make the grade at a big-name club to prove that they can make it after all.
There’s a bias against such players, after all. When you fail, and have to rebuild your career in the lower leagues, working your way back up towards the top, it seems unlikely that you’ll get that chance again. There are countless examples. From Danny Simpson and Danny Drinkwater at Leicester City, who miraculously rose above their station to win the Premier League and help the Foxes to a Champions League semi-final, to the likes of Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair who left Manchester City without making much of a dent at the top of the table.
On the other hand, the few who have made it are part of a very elite list indeed. Kevin de Bruyne, for example, was unwanted at Chelsea, though his move ‘down the leagues’ was more lateral than downward in its trajectory, to Wolfsburg rather than Wolverhampton.
Keane’s arrival at a bigger club would be a much different kettle of fish. Perhaps a better example would be former club-mate Kieran Trippier. He failed to make it at Manchester City before kick-starting his career at Turf Moor and eventually working his way up to becoming a key part of Tottenham’s squad this season. Indeed, if it weren’t for the brilliance of Kyle Walker’s attacking form this year, he may well be first choice. Pep Guardiola may also be wishing City had kept hold of him.
You get the feeling, though, that most players in similar situations don’t really get the chance that Keane may well have this summer. His performance for England against Germany, though, begin to tell the story of a player grabbing an opportunity laid at his door. It’s not just his performance for a newly-promoted Premier League club that others have to go on, he’s done it against the world champions on the international stage, too.
Tarred with the brush of failure, there’s a snobbery about players who haven’t burst onto the scene as a teenager at a big team. In a world where, at the age of 24, a player is considered ‘getting on’, there isn’t really much scope for rebuilding if you want it make it back to the very top. If you get a chance you need to take it.
Keane, though, has shown that he can hold his own against the best the Premier League’s attackers have to offer, especially at home. And without that, his team would be points from safety and staring down the barrel of another season in the Championship.
But because of that inability to make the grade, Keane will be viewed with a certain amount of suspicion if he does move. In a Jose Mourinho back four at Manchester United, he might fit straight into an organised defence who don’t usually hold the highest of lines. At Tottenham, he might well settle into a back three next season, as he has done this season with England – and if Spurs do go down that route, there’s no better pairing for Keane to learn from than Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.
It might just be that Keane’s in the perfect position to prove those doubters wrong.