NOT SO long ago, Will Keane was considered the next prodigy most likely to roll off the Manchester United production line.
Prolific all the way through the age groups at Old Trafford, the Stockport-born striker’s goals had fired an Under-18s team containing Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingaard to the 2011 FA Youth Cup.
A year earlier, he had been a team-mate of Ross Barkley and Jack Butland as England triumphed in the Under-17s European Championship, while such was Keane’s immense promise that Sir Alex Ferguson thought nothing of handing the striker his Premier League debut at the age of just 18.
Then, though, came the horror of a cruciate ligament injury in May, 2012. The next 16 months would be spent on the sidelines and Keane has been battling to revive his career ever since.
A £1m move to Hull City shortly before last summer’s transfer window closed is, Keane hopes, going to do just that as he looks to follow the lead of twin brother Michael, who since quitting Old Trafford for Burnley has earned a call-up to the England senior squad.
“I was talked about as the next best thing at Manchester United but had that setback,” said the 23-year-old to The Yorkshire Post.
“It was a crucial time in my development. You never know what way it would have gone if you had not got injured. But that happens in football. You just have to deal with setbacks.
“The bottom line now is I am playing in the Premier League. I have to be happy with that. I know there is a lot of potential still in me and, hopefully, I can keep pushing forward.”
Potential is what Keane had in spades as a youngster.
Having joined the Red Devils youth set-up at the age of 11, his Under-18s debut followed within three years. Sheffield United were the opposition that afternoon, just as they were in the 2011 FA Youth Cup final that saw Keane score in both legs as the Premier League side triumphed 6-3 on aggregate.
That season ended with 16 goals in 17 appearances for the Under-18s and another six in 10 games for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reserve team, hence the excitement surrounding Keane at the time.
“I have accepted what happened at Manchester United,” said the 23-year-old. “You see a lot of lads at United who get to the point where they are not getting the game time they want and can’t see a path through to regular first team football.
“I had reached that stage. I knew the opportunities I needed were not going to come (at Old Trafford). I had played a couple of games last season under (Louis) van Gaal but then got a knockback with an injury.
“I did think then, ‘Is it ever going to happen for me here?’ I also had the example of my brother, who had moved to Burnley and his career had got better and better.
“So, I spoke to Jose (Mourinho). He said I could stay around the squad, as we didn’t know what would happen. But I told him I wanted to move on and he was fine with that.
“I am looking to do the same here as what my brother has done at Burnley. I would like to make up for lost time.”
Keane’s move to Hull wasn’t the first time the striker had tried his luck in Yorkshire. He had a four-month loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday in 2015. It followed a similar stint at Queens Park Rangers the previous season, a move that he believes was a mistake .
“My first loan came about on deadline day,” said Keane. “QPR were flying in the Championship. I wanted to go there and score the goals to help the team back into the Premier League.
“That was only going to look good on me and I had the belief I could do that.
“But, if I am honest, I rushed myself. I hadn’t really had sufficient training to get my fitness up to the right level (before joining QPR) and should have been patient.
“But I decided to go and was then in and out of the team. I struggled with my confidence. It was a massive learning curve for me.”
On his stay at Hillsborough, Keane added: “I enjoyed my time at Sheffield Wednesday and had a good run in the team.
“I felt more like myself at that point.
“I’d had a good pre-season and then spent the first half of that season back at United getting myself fully fit. I worked closely with Warren (Joyce, then reserve team manager) building myself up.
“It meant when I joined Wednesday that I felt ready. I felt ready to perform well there.”
Keane had one more loan spell away from the Premier League with Preston North End last season. He played 20 games for Simon Grayson’s men before returning to Old Trafford amid an injury crisis.
Two first-team appearances followed only for a groin injury to bring his season to an end in February. In his absence, rookie Marcus Rashford was promoted to the first team and netted four times in his first two games against Midtjylland and Arsenal.
The footballing Gods having spoken, Keane left for a Hull side who are now struggling after an impressive start. Not that someone whose career has suffered so many setbacks is fazed by the challenge of keeping the Tigers up.
“I do feel a stronger person for what has happened. Things like this make your mentality tougher and maybe even a bit hungrier to succeed after setbacks.
“As a team, we want to put this right. Not just for ourselves but Mick Phelan as well. We know he deserves to turn this around and one win can kick things off.”