Defender Keane re-United with Class of 2011 at Old Trafford
As far as regrets go, Michael Keane and Paul Pogba will probably be considered two of Manchester United's biggest.
The two were recently reunited over dinner, presumably reminiscing about a time when the pair put themselves in to Sir Alex Ferguson’s thinking when lifting the FA Youth Trophy in 2011.
Unfortunately, thoughts of hearing their names bellowed out over the tannoy at the Theatre of Dreams on matchday didn’t exactly materialise.
In fact, they’d only go on to share the pitch once as professionals as they both featured as substitutes in a 3-0 win over Aldershot in the League Cup. Not quite the glittering careers they’d imagined following a 6-3 aggregate win over Sheffield United.
The 20-time English champions, widely renowned for disproving Alan Hansen’s theory that “you can’t win anything with youngsters”, failed to take heed from the success and enlightenment that the club’s ‘fledglings’ had brought.
There would be no “Class of 92” scenario for United’s class of 2011. Pogba joined Serie A side Juventus when his contract expired, with the club accruing just £800,000 in compensation for the Frenchman, a pittance of the street value that he carries in today’s vastly exaggerated market.
Keane, on the other hand, was shipped out on various loan deals before being allowed to find his home at Turf Moor by Louis Van Gaal.
“I’ve seen Pogba once since he’s been back,” said Keane. “I saw him for dinner one night and it was good to see him. He was the same guy that he’s always been, really down to earth and funny.
“His fame hasn’t changed him at all which was good to see. It’ll be good to play against him having played alongside him for a few years.
“I remember his first day at the club. We were all training at The Cliff, sat in the dressing room, we were only young lads, about 16, and normally when you come in to a new group you’re shy.
“He came in and the first thing he did was walk in to the changing room shaking everybody’s hand and sat interacting and speaking.”
He added: “We played the game and you could see how good he was right away; right foot, left foot, pinging the ball. We knew from that first day he was a special player.
“He had the aura from the start. He’s a confident lad but he’s always been a great person to have around.
“There were little things he’d do like getting chants going on the team bus, French chants, and everyone would follow him when we were going on these tours. He was great to have around and I have great memories of them all. It was good to see him.”
It’s fair to say that their respective careers have taken them on different paths but today, at 3 p.m., the Premier League fixture hosted by the Red Devils will see their journeys circumnavigate back to the point where it all began.
Only now Pogba is the world’s most expensive player, having been taken back to Manchester by Jose Mourinho in a deal worth £89m, while Keane is an England international, reportedly pinned at £25m having exited for a tenth of that figure.
“That’s the way football is going,” the defender said. “You could always tell that he was a talented lad and how good he was.
“When he left United we were all really surprised that they let it happen. I don’t know exactly why it happened - I think it was mainly to do with game time. “You could always see how good he was in training. Some of the stuff he used to do was unbelievable. He was a big, strong lad with great feet, he could score goals and he was good in the air.
“He’s got everything. It’s not really a surprise to see him get bought back for that amount of money. It’s more of a surprise to see him back, but not for that money.”
The top flight may not have seen the best of Pogba just yet, not the same player that showed such promise under the tutelage of Paul McGuinness, Jim Ryan and John Cook at The Cliff, but Keane is backing his old friend to hit his full potential eventually.
“He’s a special player,” he said. “He’s a big, strong lad, it’s so hard to get the ball off him, he’s got a lot of skill, you can see that with his feet, but he’ll score goals as well – spectacular goals, headers.
“There’s a lot more to come from him. It will take time for him to develop, to get used to the Premier League again because it is different playing in Italy but he’s had a taster of it before so I’m sure he’ll adapt pretty soon.”
There was one player, however, who made the cut from the cup-winning youth team. Jesse Lingard, who enjoyed temporary spells at Leicester City, Birmingham City, Brighton and Derby County, was given his chance last season.
“I saw Jesse the other night and we had a chat about the game,” Keane said. “I’m really looking forward to it and playing against him.
“Even in the last few years when I’d left United I still see him every couple of weeks or so. We have kept in contact, I know all his family, his brothers. He’s done really well.
“He’s dangerous, he can pop up with a goal, he’s quite a good finisher. He works hard and being a winger you’ve got to track back these days and he’ll do that all day long.
“I know how good they are as players but at the same time we’ll be there to do a job against them. First and foremost I need to do really well for my football club, Burnley, and look to get a result.”
Keane finished: “It is the fixture that I look at first when they come out. I’ve got loads of friends and family there who have season tickets so there always going to the games.
“It’s definitely a special occasion for me having spent so long at the club. I still know most of the people there behind the scenes.
“It will be good to go back but you have to be really professional, do what you normally do, focus on the game and prepare just like I would for any other game.”