Michael Keane: Manchester United Youngster Has a Bright Future at Old Trafford

Terry CarrollContributor IIIJanuary 23, 2013

Michael Keane
Michael KeaneShaun Botterill/Getty Images

Manchester United's Michael Keane was born in Stockport, less than 10 miles from Old Trafford. Together with his twin brother, Will, he looks to have a bright future at the club.

Already having represented England U19s five times, he has also made three appearances for United, where he is a registered first-team squad member.

Sir Alex is thinking toward the future, as far as Michael and Scott Wootton are concerned. He only took three central defenders on the preseason tour, where the two were joined by Rio Ferdinand.

Of course, they would have liked more game time, especially while United had injury problems in central defence. It would have been disappointing to see Michael Carrick deputising at centre-back at the start of the season.

But while Wootton has more first-team experience on loan to Tranmere, Peterborough and Nottingham Forest (32 appearances in total), both are very much in the manager's sights for the future.

There may have been recent concerns that Sir Alex hasn't given more chances to his up-and-coming young stars, but Wootton and Michael Keane can be confident they are in the manager's future plans.

Michael Keane Has Made Rapid Progress in 2 Years

Manchester United are blessed with young central defenders. When you look at how far Jonny Evans has progressed, there is every reason to believe the same Academy conveyor belt will continue to deliver.

This is a nice problem to have as far as the manager is concerned. His present centre-back cohort comprises Ferdinand, Vidic, Evans, Smalling and Jones. In a couple of years' time it will be Evans, Smalling, Jones, Wootton and Keane; and Fornasier, Thorpe, McGinty and the rest will be pushing them.

Michael and Will joined Manchester United on 1 July 2009. Michael didn't make any appearances for the Under 18s in 2009/10. Because of his smaller stature, he started life as a full-back, but since he developed physically to over six feet tall, his game has come on by leaps and bounds.

He was a key member of United's 2011 FA Youth Cup-winning team. Last season, he played more matches than anyone else for the Reserves (30 matches and five goals). That earned him "Player of the Year" and a call-up to the First Team for the Carling Cup.

Unusually, he has played for the Republic of Ireland as a junior but has now made it clear he wants to play for England in the future.

Catching the Eye in the Championship

While the Championship may not be anything like the Champions League, central defence is one area where the skills and needs are pretty uniform. 

The Championship is arguably a more rugged environment for defenders. Look how well Second Division Bradford City's back four handled Aston Villa's attack, including Christian Benteke.

Sir Alex needed Keane and Wootton for the first half of the season but now that he has all five of his established central defenders fit, he has let both of them go out on loan to get more game time.

Wootton has returned to Peterborough and Keane is at Leicester City.

He originally went to Leicester in November but suffered a hamstring injury in his first match and returned to Old Trafford for treatment.

Since he arrived back at Leicester, he has impressed fans and manager alike with a string of solid performances—to the extent that Nigel Pearson is keen to extend his initial one-month loan period to the end of the season.

Sir Alex is unlikely to object to that with five central defenders fit, and presumably, he could recall Scott Wootton anyhow.

As Pearson has said about Michael:

He has a bright future in the game. It is good to have a player of that calibre with us.

He is very highly regarded by Manchester United and we are very pleased to secure that loan. It will be good experience for him as well. It's an important time for him and he does give us quite a bit of quality.

So far, Keane has started four matches for Leicester, all of which they have won, scoring 13 goals and conceding only one. Taking them to second place in the division, that is Championship winning form.

His Potential

Listening to Keane being interviewed, he has his feet firmly on the ground, unlike some star-struck young players whose head is in the clouds.

It helps that he is a passionate Manchester United fan and a local boy.

Of course he recognises that there are other players ahead of him—maybe even his young counterpart, Wootton. But unlike Paul Pogba and Zeki Fryers, you can be sure Michael will stay and fight his corner until he is an established first-team player.

As he says in an interview for the Leicester Mercury:

In the long term, I want to go back to United next year and become a first-team regular, and win everything I can with them. 

I would love to play for the England senior team as well. I have caps at under-19 level and I really enjoying playing for England.

While Keane didn't make any appearances in 2009/10, it was clear from early in the following season that he was a special player. Together, with his brother Will, they won the FA Youth Cup, as did "Fergie's Fledglings."

While it may be in this department that United are particularly blessed, competition will bring out the best in all these young players.

Michael has Rio Ferdinand as his role model, but of course, he has had the chance to learn firsthand from one of world football's great defenders in Nemanja Vidic since he joined the first-team squad.

You can just imagine Will and Michael squabbling as youngsters as to who would play striker. While his brother ended up as one of England's brightest young prospects in that department (before his injury), Michael is no slouch when it comes to goal scoring.

He is not just proficient with his head and can hit a mean volley. He is also two-footed. In play, he is calmness and fearlessness personified. The partnership he has already developed with Scott Wootton could well be United's first choice in five years' time.

With all the random talk about the likes of Mats Hummels or Neven Subotic coming to United, there seems to be absolutely no need at the moment.

Rio and Nemanja are back in the harness. Jonny Evans is one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones showed they represent a bright future with their solid performances against West Ham. They have also played for England together.

So while that represents competition for Michael and Scott, it breaks both ways. At the rate they are both developing their senior colleagues will have to retain their form not to be nudged aside in the next year or so.

After all, if a 19-year-old Phil Jones can emerge and be talked about as a future England and Manchester United captain, there is absolutely no reason why Michael Keane, a solid but all-around goal-scoring central defender, can't break into the first team sometime soon.

And once Will is fully fit, they could well become the first twins to play in the same team for England.


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