With 35 goals for Manchester United’s under-23 side, Will Keane was tipped for the top.
While he made three first team appearances for the Red Devils, it was not meant to be. An ACL injury while playing for England’s under-18s side had first hampered his development, just one of several injuries he would suffer, having to also undergo groin surgery.
Disappointing loans combined with Marcus Rashford’s emergence eventually led to Jose Mourinho sanctioning Keane’s sale in August 2016, where he was snapped up by Mike Phelan’s Hull City for just £1 million. Three months later he suffered a torn ACL again.
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Finally enjoying better luck
Keane is now at Wigan Athletic, where he signed in 2020 after a season at Ipswich Town. Now in 2021/22, the striker is enjoying the best football of his career.
This season Keane has scored 20 goals for the first time in his professional career, with 19 in the league and another in the EFL Trophy.
There were positive signs last year when Keane struck 11 goals for Wigan, his best ever return. This was more than the six he managed for Ipswich.
Keane’s goals have been instrumental in Wigan’s charge into the automatic promotion spots in League One. Of the 34 league goals the team have scored, Keane has bagged 19 of them.
While the striker is now 29, he is showing it is never late to break new ground.
Late last year Keane was called into the Republic of Ireland squad for the very first time. Having represented England from under-16 to under-20 levels, no senior caps ever came his way, understandable given his career struggles.
Keane made the choice to switch allegiance and he is in Ireland’s squad once again this week, hoping to make his mark when they take on Belgium and Lithuania in upcoming friendly matches.
Irish boss Stephen Kenny is hopeful, telling Wigan Today: “He’s fulfilling his potential now. He’s not even playing centre forward and he’s got 20 goals.
“He’s been playing in a variety of roles, centre forward on occasion, and has been terrific. He’s a good target, he will take the ball, you can play the ball into him. He’s not lightning quick, but he’s got okay pace.
“He has good vision and awareness of his team-mates and scores headed goals as well, which is a bonus.”
Changing his game
As referred to by Stephen Kenny, former United talent Keane has changed his game to achieve his new found levels of success.
Speaking to United’s club website last year, Keane explained how he has adapted: “I’ve been playing in a different role – deeper and almost a Frank Lampard position, let alone a Teddy Sheringham no.10.
“I have always been a player who hasn’t relied on pace. I like to think I’m deceptively quick but I’m not like a winger who is always threatening in behind. My strengths are linking up play, getting on the ball and having awareness.”
Keane may be breaking through late, but he hopes he can be a late bloomer, even comparing himself to Jamie Vardy, who only made his Premier League debut in his late 20s.
The forward explained: “Hopefully, I can still work my way back up and the first step is trying to get into the Championship with Wigan. After all, look at other players – Jamie Vardy didn’t play in the Premier League until he was 28.
“Teddy Sheringham played into his 40s – another 12 years? I’d take that all day! You see Zlatan Ibrahimovic still doing it at AC Milan. He’s such a specimen isn’t he? You look at his physique and how strong he is and yet he did his ACL too.”
Keane has also worked with a sports psychologist to help him get back on track, and all the changes he has been making have been working. He has already made 35 league appearances this season, the most he has ever made, and with a consistent run, the talent he once showed in United’s academy is finally shining through.
The Carrington graduate may be one of United’s lost talents, but he is not lost entirely. Instead he finally appears to have found himself.