North London rivals Arsenal and Spurs are set to battle it out for the signature of Everton defender Michael Keane this summer, according to reports.
The Daily Mail claim both clubs had representatives present at the London Stadium for the Toffees’ 2-0 win over West Ham United on Saturday as Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino both search for a centre-back during the next transfer window.
Arsenal have suffered from a number of defensive injuries this season and with Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal advancing into their 30s, reinforcements will be needed at the Emirates next season.
The same can be said for Spurs who have become the first Premier League club to be inactive across consecutive transfer window and face the prospect of losing Toby Alderweireld at the end of the season.
Keane arrived at Goodison Park at the start of last season for a £25m fee, rising to £30m, but failed to impress during his debut campaign on Merseyside. His season was defined by a dash of drastic mistakes, a smattering of slow turns and a failure to truly establish himself as the defensive fulcrum he was meant to be.
However, in October 2018, the 26-year-old revealed the horrific details of an injury sustained when ex-Everton striker James Vaughan landed a two-footed challenge on him during a League Cup tie with Sunderland and although he was able to continue playing through the pain, he nearly lost his foot as a result.
“I played on,” Keane said. “But I knew that something wasn’t right and I had a hole straight through the top of my boot from his studs.
“I went in at half-time and my foot was aching but I didn’t do anything about it and played the second half. When I took my boot off again there was blood everywhere.”
Keane continued to play on in the coming weeks but after a game against former side Burnley, he realised things weren’t quite right: “If it [the swelling] had kept going up my leg that’s when it really gets serious — they said if it had got much worse we might have been looking at losing the foot.”
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Keane finally got a rest following the arrival of Sam Allardyce as manager and this season, under Marco Silva, he has flourished. The ex-Man Utd man has won 163 aerial duels in the Premier League this season, 10 ahead of Liverpool’s Goliath Virgil van Dijk and 78 ahead of the nearest north London centre-back, Shkodran Mustafi. Keane has also won 209 duels this season, the third-highest of any centre-back in the division and, again, Mustafi is the closest Arsenal or Spurs defender, way back on 145.
But Keane isn’t just an old fashioned, clogger of a centre-back. He’s also a more than capable ball player and has completed 1,107 passes in the league so far this term, with only Mustafi (1,150) and Alderweireld (1,742) completing more among defenders at Arsenal and Spurs. This, in an Everton side which has averaged 6.82% and 8.57% less possession than Arsenal and Spurs, respectively.
Keane’s ability to play the ball out of defence has led to a recall to Gareth Southgate’s England side, who are always looking for centre-backs who can dominate possession and start attacks.
It’s a big difference to be honest. He’s not the same Michael that I saw in the pre-season and the first match as well. For me his value is more now than he was last season or what I saw in the pre-season. Michael now is more like what we expect. He has conditions to improve.
Marco Silva on Michael Keane’s improvement this season.
Keane has taken his body to the limits of footballing safety, brought himself back and overcome his critics with a number of impressive displays in both Everton blue and England white this season, proving he is definitely capable of stepping up to the next level.
But what about Everton? Surely they themselves want to reach that next level? If all the talk of revolution under Farhad Moshiri, Marcel Brands and Silva is to be believed and not just chalked up to another desperate attempt at public relations, Everton simply must keep hold their star talent, including Keane.
It’s fair to say the Toffees have floundered at times this season – a promising start was undermined by that unfortunate Anfield defeat and started a run of 10 defeats in 16 games across all competitions. However, Silva has been hard at work and Everton have taken 10 points from their last five games, keeping four clean sheets along the way.
Pundits are now seriously considering the prospect of Everton surging into seventh place before mounting a challenge on the top six next term and Keane has been central to returning that ‘Silva lining’ on Merseyside.
Everton claim to be highly ambitious, while Brands and Silva are building a young, vibrant squad with the aim of hauling the club back into football’s elite. Whether or not they keep Keane in the summer will be a huge indicator of whether they can truly fulfil that destiny or if they are still just that plucky, selling club that has punched above their perceived weight.