Michael Keane has been in outstanding form for Burnley this season and was rewarded by making his senior England debut in the friendly against Germany last week.
A few days later Keane made his competitive bow, partnering John Stones at the heart of the Three Lions’ defence in a facile 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Lithuania.
The former Manchester United prospect has been tipped to make a big-money exit from Turf Moor in the summer. And no doubt his transfer value will go north after the recent international recognition.
But there should be a word of warning to those championing Keane’s prospects as a long-term solution to England’s search for new centre-backs.
As in recent years the fortunes of many English defenders have not gone according to plan following their international debuts.
For example, we should look at the England side that fielded for a friendly match against Sweden in 2012 (which England lost, 4-2).
Then Tottenham Hotspur prospect Steven Caulker was handed his first England start by manager Roy Hodgson and although the Feltham born defender actually scored early on, and made a brilliant block to preserve his side’s lead until half-time, he would never again play for his country.
Indeed, Caulker’s club career went into nosedive and between 2013 and 2015 he twice suffered relegation from The Premier League; first with Cardiff City and then for Queen’s Park Rangers. Since then, Caulker – who played at the 2012 Olympic Games for Team GB – had short and unsuccessful loans with Southampton and Liverpool. The later move turned to something of a joke, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp used him as an auxiliary striker, if the Anfield side were chasing games late on.
Caulker, still just 25, remains contracted to Queen’s Park Rangers but hasn’t played for them since late October. And only today (Tuesday) he was fined £12,500 and given an 18-month driving ban for failing to provide a breath specimen. Last month Caulker – who is believed to earn around £40,000 a week – was fined £650 and ordered to pay £85 costs after pleading guilty to being drunk and disorderly.
His fellow defenders Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal) and Ryan Shawcross also debuted in the 4-2 defeat against Sweden, coming on for the last 15 minutes as England hopelessly collapsed and conceded three goals in the final 14 minutes. Shawcross, who was lauded for some time for his gritty club performances, has not won a single cap since. Jenkinson has since suffered the same international fate and his club efforts have not been hectic either; falling down the pecking order at Arsenal and spending a couple of seasons on loan at West Ham United.
In May 2012, meanwhile, Liverpool’s emerging defender Martin Kelly was called in to the England squad for a friendly against Norway. He was brought on as an 88th minute substitute but hasn’t played for his country since, making his England senior career the shortest ever on record. Kelly joined Crystal Palace in 2014. Other fairly high-profile defenders who have failed to realise initial international potential include Nathaniel Clyne, Kieran Gibbs and Micah Richards.
So, one wonders just how far Michael Keane’s ability will take him, internationally. For sure, a big transfer seems likely for the towering 24-year-old from Stockport. But judging by recent history, he still has a long way to go before England can boast a long-term successor to the likes of Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry.