Michael Keane believes he has taken another significant step to proving Manchester United wrong for letting him go and has justified his decision to switch international allegiances from Republic of Ireland to England.
England manager Gareth Southgate handed Keane his first senior international cap in the 1-0 friendly defeat to Germany in Dortmund.
The 24-year-old Burnley star played on the right side of a three-man central defence and was one of England’s best performers, despite finishing on the losing side.
Having signed Dutch defender Daley Blind and Argentina’s Marcos Rojo for a combined £30million, former United manager Louis van Gaal decided he did not need Englishman Keane in his squad.
But the decision to allow Keane to join Burnley permanently for just £2m in January 2015 has backfired on United, who have watched him develop into one of the best young centre-backs in the country.
“I was always confident in my ability,” said Keane. “I always thought I would make it at United. A few changes in managers did not help and when I left I felt I had a point to prove, and it made me work that bit harder. I am thankful to Sean Dyche at Burnley for the work he has done with me and the faith he has put in me.
“I feel maybe I have proved a point. I feel I have done well, personally, so there is not much more I can do.”
Everton are at the front of the queue of clubs interested in signing Keane, who is now rated at £20m, but his performance in Dortmund will have impressed Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.
Keane can certainly count on glowing reviews from Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland, who will work out the remainder of the season as Antonio Conte’s assistant first-team coach at Chelsea, and Gary Cahill.
“I’m a big fan of him,” said Cahill. “I think Burnley, I've been there myself, is a fantastic club. He can play football, he's comfortable on the ball and showed his composure, he slotted in and looked very established out there.
“I thought Michael was tremendous, I thought he did really well. I think the phrase is 'thrown in at the deep end' because they don't come much tougher than that for your debut, the world champions away from home.
“It was a fantastic occasion for him and his family, I thought he did fantastically well. He looked very comfortable out there.”
Keane knows he does not have to worry about trying to attract bids, as the offers will role in at the end of the season. Asked about being watched by some of the biggest clubs in the Premier League, he said: “It is flattering. I am focused on Burnley and have nine games left. We need to make sure we stay in the league, but the links show that I am doing well.”
Keane played for Republic of Ireland’s under-17s and under-19s before deciding to focus on England after receiving a call from former under-19 coach Noel Blake.
“I always wanted to play for England, but when I was younger I was not at the level required so I thought it best to go and get some experience at international level, so that is what I did,” said Keane.
“My dad was born in Ireland, but moved to England when he was nine, but he is over the moon. When I got a call saying they wanted me I did not think twice. I was thankful to Ireland to play, but England was my country. Noel Blake called me, there was never any doubt.
“You never know whether the chance will come, but Gareth Southgate being the gaffer (who Keane played under for England under-21s) helped me. He knows what I am like in training and that helps. I always thought if I am playing well in the Premier League I would have a chance.
“I like to set new goals and I have managed to get to a huge one in terms of making my debut. There are a lot of great players ahead of me. It is not going to be easy, but I want to keep playing well for my club and see where it takes me. Hopefully, there are many more caps to come. I always thought it would come eventually.”
Another England player who impressed in Dortmund was Tottenham’s Dele Alli, who Adam Lallana believes is a special talent.
“Dele is special,” said Lallana. “I love the way he goes about his business - no fear, he’s brave. But still people need to be patient with him. He is still a young boy and performing how he does is way above his years. He is not even 21 yet. It is important that we don’t get carried away.”
Asked about Alli’s confidence, which can wind up opponents, Lallana added: “That’s what makes him, him. All players have different attitudes that make them what they are and that’s why he is a unique and a special talent.”
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