It is fair to say that 2019 has been a year to forget for Everton’s Michael Keane.
In September a high-profile gaffe for his country against Kosovo exacerbated yet another poor performance in an England shirt and this was followed soon after by a first-half ‘horror show’ away to the Czech Republic. The 26-year-old has not been selected by Gareth Southgate in the three games since, with England boasting clean sheets in all of them.
His fortunes at club level meanwhile have not been any more fruitful and this is anything but a recent development. In November Keane admitted that 2018/19 was such a difficult campaign for him that the defender often opted to stay indoors rather than face a critical public while this season things have only gone from bad to worse. A particularly shaky display in December’s Merseyside derby saw him mocked by supporters and he has ultimately become a scapegoat to beleaguered Evertonians.
Michael Keane tops Alcaraz and Kroldrup as the worst Everton defender I’ve ever seen. Absolute disgrace him.
— Ben (@BT_1878) December 21, 2019
I've given Michael Keane 2 and a half seasons.
Send him back to Burnley.
— Coke (@TopBalcBoy) December 18, 2019
We all laugh and joke about Oumar Niasse but am telling you now he’s a million times the player Michael Keane is. The worst player I have seen in an Everton shirt bar none
— Liam Gray (@LiamgEFC) December 18, 2019
For balance it should be noted that such strong condemnation is commonplace on Twitter for any struggling player but so flailing has been Keane’s form that even pundits have gone in two-footed. This autumn Noel Whelan concentrated on an especially weak component of his game saying: “I’ve watched Keane’s positioning and it’s been abysmal. If he doesn’t see the problem, there is something wrong.”
In hindsight it is very clear that a brief upturn in form at the tail-end of last year – that saw then manager Marco Silva claim that Keane’s ‘broken confidence’ was being rebuilt – was nothing more than a false dawn. In hindsight it can be stated with under-statement that the centre-back’s two-and-a-half years at Goodison have not gone according to plan.
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This is immensely surprising considering how imposing and consistently excellent Keane was at Burnley under Sean Dyche, a formidable partnership with Ben Mee resulting in international recognition and finding himself shortlisted for the PFA Young Player of the Year award in the spring of 2017. That summer Everton beat rivals to his signature to the tune of £30m and the feeling was that Keane would install some solidity to a back-line in sore need of it.
As already highlighted that has fundamentally not been the case and yet an established trope of football insists that a footballer does not lose his ability overnight, only his circumstances change. And recognising this offers up some hope that Keane’s troubled tenure with the Blues might still come good because the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti is a significant development indeed.
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The venerated Italian coach may not be especially known for instilling defensive fortitude – unlike a Mourinho for example – but that is largely because he holistically organises a team as a whole and it is natural to concentrate on his previous gilded achievements going forward.
Yet a track record improving the calibre of Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta through an illustrious career bodes well for Everton’s rear-guard as a whole and perhaps Keane in particular.
A fresh start and a new direction is exactly what this struggling defender needs right now: a chance to reset under one of the most respected coaches in the game. It’s an opportunity to correct errant positioning and cut out the individual mistakes as his confidence grows.
Yet it also can be perceived as a last chance and if Keane continues to disappoint then a once promising career will surely dwindle to dust. For the out-of-favour Everton and England man, 2020 must be a year to remember.