…And to think I was worried about Michael at the beginning of this season. Then he became Mick.
Perhaps the easiest way to describe Keane’s transformation this season is to look at his name. At the start he was Michael Keane. Liability. Now he’s Mick Keane. Proud winner of the BlueBlood award.
There are two Keane clips that ricochet around my mind.
In the first, Michael Keane, with all the time in the world and up against a poor Swansea side, inexplicably fires a bouncing ball at Jordan Pickford who has to stretch to save a corner kick and head the ball out for a throw in. Michael’s panicked, all bulging bovine eyes and nerves. Allardyce’s Everton scraped a draw that day, and we lost every conceivable stat except for fouls. Nevertheless, our manager was happy with our cloven hoofball a point. “We’ve come here and got the lead and dug out a point. It was a battling point, no doubt.
The second is from this season, Mick Keane is facing not Premier League barrel scrapers Swansea, but title chasers Liverpool. If he was nervous, he managed them effectively, thwarting Mo Salah with an incredible last ditch go-go-gadget leg.
Listen to any of last summer’s chatter and we were all nervous about Michael Keane on the basis of his season under Koeman and Allardyve. Everton podcasts were a unified wall of sound worrying about how Keane would do. He was a bag of nerves. An accident waiting to happen – or often an accident happening slowly and inexorably in front of our eyes. His decision making was that of a caffeinated toddler. And that’s what fear does. It makes you frantic. You second guess yourself. Decisiveness ups and leaves. In its place are slow, quarter-arsed movements as attackers gleefully skip away and the boos rain down. And I’m certain there was no way Keane could turn to Allardyce for support. Big Sam was in the blame business, dealing it out to players and fans like a croupier all the while protecting his brand. He didn’t care about Keane, he was already thinking about his next firefighting job.
Imagine last season’s Keane up against Salah? He’d have taken the Michael. And we’d have let him know.
Some of that BlueBlood award that Bill Kenwright awarded Keane is Kurt Zouma’s. He has flourished in our previously perilous defensive ecosystem. And that stability has helped Keane, no doubt. But an even bigger chunk of that trophy is down to Marco Silva, who has brought out the defender in Keane and helped him forget about Allardyce and his rancid football. Whereas Koeman and Allardyce loved to dish out blame, Silva supports his players.
Our thick jungle of defensive problems has turned into a sparse wilderness. Keane has overcome that season under Koeman and Allardyce, a skull fracture, and our zonal marking madness that left our defence resembling bodies with chalk around them. He’s back in the England squad now and his 192 aerial battles won this season just passed is only beaten by one player in the Premier League.