Loan Move Is a Chance for Manchester United's Will Keane to Unlock His Potential

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Loan Move Is a Chance for Manchester United's Will Keane to Unlock His Potential
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There are different routes to the top.

Ryan Giggs' 40th birthday last week shone a light on his journey into Manchester United's first team. He was one of the lucky ones, graduating from United's academy ready to make his first-team debut at 17. 

For others, it's not so straight forward. Rickie Lambert started in a beetroot factory and had spells at Blackpool, Macclesfield, Stockport County, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers before making his England debut as a 31-year-old.

Even David Beckham needed a stop at Preston North End before he was ready to move on to grander stages at Old Trafford, the Bernabeu and the San Siro.

Andros Townsend has shown this season that the lower leagues still have a part to play in the development of Premier League players and England internationals. 

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The 22-year-old had nine loan spells before making the breakthrough at Tottenham—at Yeovil, Leyton Orient, MK Dons, Ipswich, Watford, Millwall, Leeds, Birmingham and QPR.

Each can claim a hand in helping Townsend stand on the verge of representing England at next summer's World Cup.

Now established at White Hart Lane, Townsend's journey through the divisions is over. But for Manchester United striker Will Keane, it's just beginning.

Last week, the 20-year-old from Stockport—whose twin brother Michael is also at United, currently on loan at Derby—agreed to his first loan move, and he'll spend the next month in the Championship with Wigan Athletic.

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Only just out of his teens, Keane's CV is that of a player with a chance of making the grade.

He was part of the England Under-17 squad which won the 2010 European Championships alongside Ross Barkley and Jack Butland. They beat a Spain side in the final who included Everton loanee Gerard Deulofeu in their squad.

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A year later, Keane helped United win the FA Youth Cup. In a team which included Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison, it was Keane who scored the goals, claiming three in the two-legged final against Sheffield United, which United won 6-3 on aggregate. 

In 2010, he won the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award, following in the footsteps of Danny Welbeck, Wes Brown, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes.

He's already made his first-team debut at United, as a late substitute in the 3-2 defeat to Blackburn on New Year's Day in 2011, but injury has since stalled his progress.

He suffered a knee ligament injury playing for England Under-19s in May 2012 and missed all of last season. Back playing again, he's been turning out of United's reserves and England's Under-21s.

But at the DW Stadium, his career can now get started in earnest. 

He's had a difficult start at his temporary home. His debut on Sunday lasted just 45 minutes after he was substituted at half-time with Wigan 3-0 down to Derby. Hours later, the manager who signed him, Owen Coyle, left his job.

He'll hope there are better days ahead—at both Wigan and United.

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A striker in the mould of Dimitar Berbatov, he'll find it hard to break through at Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez, Welbeck and Angelo Henriquez are ahead in the pecking order, but time is on his side.

Given the depth of United's squad, it's rare for young players to break into the first team before they're 21 or 22. At 23, Welbeck is starting only his third full season as part of the first-team squad. As a side note, Welbeck too had loan spells at Preston and Sunderland to aid his progression. 

The path to the top isn't always smooth. But in Beckham, Townsend and Welbeck, Keane has a few high-profile guides.

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