What Does the Future Hold for Will Keane at Manchester United?

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What Does the Future Hold for Will Keane at Manchester United?
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Will Keane in action against Shrewsbury

In a round up of Manchester United transfer rumours in January 2015, Simon Rice of the Independent succinctly summed up Will Keane's development as a Red Devil.

He wrote: "The 22-year-old striker was considered a bright prospect at Old Trafford and was handed his debut by Sir Alex Ferguson during the 2011/12 season, however a serious knee injury derailed his progress."

Keane in Old Trafford action in 2011.

That derailment means it is now unclear whether Keane will be able to make a future for himself at United.

Now aged 23, he faces stiff competition for places in his natural role and has not been able to yet prove that he has become the player many hoped he could.

In October 2014, Adam Marshall of the official United website wrote that Keane was: "Rated by his United coach Warren Joyce as the country's best player at reserves level two-and-a-half years ago."

The injury to his anterior cruciate ligament meant he missed out on crucial years of his development.

By February 2016, though, as Keane was back in the first-team picture at United and about to be given his shot by Louis van Gaal, Marshall returned to the subject for ManUtd.com and wrote:

Will Keane's slow rise to where he would have been but for his serious injury (Sir Alex had promised he would be involved in the senior squad for 2012/13) is not a saga suited to the current climate of lauding instant success and criticising the slightest of failures, nor the endless debate about things that might or might not happen. It is a tale of a long, hard slog behind the scenes at the Aon Training Complex and an inner belief that surely has been seriously tested over such a long period.

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Keane was part of the United squad which faced Sunderland in February.

Unfortunately for Keane, following a four-minute cameo against Sunderland, Van Gaal brought him on against Shrewsbury Town, only for the player to succumb to injury again—this time a groin problem, sustained as he hit the post with his first shot of the game.

The striker spent the first half of the season on loan at Preston North End, where he struggled to make any kind of meaningful impact.

One Championship goal in 1046 minutes of football—across 20 appearances—did little to suggest Keane was ready to compete at the top level. 

Upon his return to United, he demonstrated that reserve football had little to now teach him, putting five goals past Norwich City's under-21s. That performance warranted his inclusion in the first-team picture.

His injury, though, allowed Marcus Rashford to enter the picture, something which could cost Keane dearly.

The 18-year-old was able to do what Keane was not, and grabbed his chance, scoring five times in his first eight United appearances, and not being struck by the kind of misfortune that had befallen his team-mate.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Rashford celebrates his starring role in the Manchester Derby.

That now leaves Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Rashford ahead of Keane in the pecking order. Additionally, James Wilson is still on the club's books, and he is enjoying a slightly better Championship loan spell with Brighton & Hove Albion than Keane managed—though with four goals in 913 minutes of football, he is hardly on fire. 

Then, of course, there is the question of the strikers with whom United are linked. Romelu Lukaku, per the Mail, Harry Kane, per the Star and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, per the Sun are just three examples.

AFP/Getty Images
Lukaku in training for Belgium, just one of the strikers linked with United.

There are more rumours than actual transfers, but it certainly does not seem impossible that United will look to strengthen at centre-forward.

Thus Keane is in a difficult position. It is hard to see the best-case scenario—a future in which he leads the line at United—unfolding. He is, though, clearly a phenomenally talented footballer.

In February, Marshall wrote: 

Above all, it is a football story and one that occurs to many players and most clubs as a promising player has to overcome a lengthy spell on the sidelines. I am sure I am not alone in wishing there is a fairytale ending and not purely because Will Keane is yet another example of exactly the sort of footballer and character Manchester United pride themselves on producing.

If Keane's future does lie away from Old Trafford, any future employer will be lucky to have him.

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Keane ahead of United's game with Sunderland.

Advanced statistics per WhoScored.com.

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