TIME is running out, but Michael Keane is refusing to give up on his World Cup dream just yet.
The Everton defender has four games left this season in which to convince England manager Gareth Southgate he’s worthy of a place in Russia.
Keane played in the last two qualifiers, but a spell of iffy club form saw him overlooked for the recent friendlies against Holland and Italy.
In his place were uncapped duo Alfie Mawson (Swansea City) and the man who replaced Keane at Burnley, James Tarkowski.
Having moved from Turf Moor last summer for £30m, it was supposed to be the step towards a regular England spot at a bigger club.
But, as Everton’s season draws to a mundane conclusion in mid-table, Keane needs a big finish.
“I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t at the World Cup,” says the 25-year-old.
“It would be very difficult to watch, as it’s something I’ve been striving for a few years.
“Obviously, coming to Everton, I thought I was giving myself a great chance of doing that. But it’s not been the season I, or anyone at the club, wanted.
“Whenever I have played for England, I have done well. But you have to do more than that.
“You only meet up with England five or six times a year, and you have to prove at your club that you’re doing well enough.
“Just from being in the squad for five of the last six trips gives me hope.
“I know the manager likes me. He knows what I’m about, so it’s a case of playing regularly, which I feel I have been doing for the last few months.
“I’m sure I will be in his thoughts, even if I may not be at the top. All I can do is keep playing well and hope that’s enough.”
As Keane plots a path to Russia, starting tomorrow night at home to Newcastle, one of his former Burnley team-mates is preparing for life in management.
Joey Barton will take up the reins at Fleetwood in June and the Toffees defender is predicting big things for his new career.
“I think he’ll be brilliant,” says Keane. “I got that impression at Burnley. Any time he got the opportunity to speak in team meetings, he did.
“It’s a bit of a gamble going into management. But he’s really intelligent and his football knowledge is very good, so I hope he does well.
“He wears his heart on his sleeve, but he has definitely brought that under control.
“Every now and then he will have a little blow-out. But if you compare the Joey Barton now, to maybe five or 10 years ago, there’s a huge difference.”
Michael Keane is an Everton in the Community Ambassador for Sports Development. He was taking part in a Super Movers session, a BBC-backed Premier League initiative to help primary school teachers inspire children to be more active.
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