Burnley boss Sean Dyche believes Michael Keane’s name is not out of place alongside Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Romelu Lukaku in Premier League awards season.
Keane is one of six candidates nominated for the Professional Footballers’ Association young player of the year gong and is the only outfield player outside the current top seven to earn a nod on either that or the senior shortlist.
The Manchester United graduate joins Sunderland’s fire-fighting goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in battling previous winners Kane and Alli, as well as Lukaku and Leroy Sane, for the honour Dyche feels the recognition is well earned.
“It’s a great sign for him and he deserves to be in that company,” said Dyche, who has been instrumental in developing Keane from prospect to consistent contributor and England international.
“We’re not shining lights of the Premier League or a superpower, so for other players to see that and say ‘hang on a minute, he’s been terrific in a smaller side at a smaller club’ is good, it’s good of his peers to recognise that.
“He’s in some very good company, some players who are having absolutely fine seasons, and he’s having a very strong season too.”
Burnley are already braced for significant interest in the defender in the summer, and the likelihood of him remaining at Turf Moor recedes with every eye-catching display.
Everton are among those interested but Dyche does not expect the player to be affected by speculation – or nominations – as the campaign winds to a close.
“He’s a pretty steady lad, he’s very respectful of the team around him and the staff and how they’ve tried to help him,” said Dyche.
“He’s developed well over the last two-and-a-half-seasons and I’m pleased because part of my sales pitch to get him here was that he’d be in a group that would develop and he’d be a big part of that.
“So I’m pleased from our point of view that it rang true for him, but he still deserves a lot of credit, the team is the most important thing but you still need individuals to perform and he’s done that.”
Keane will go head to head with one of his PFA rivals on Saturday as he attempts to snuff out the threat of the Premier League’s top-scorer, Everton’s 23-goal Lukaku.
Dyche is a long-time fan of the Belgian, even revealing he was knocked back when attempting to arrange a loan deal during striker’s early days at Chelsea.
“I remember at Watford ringing Roberto Di Matteo about him,” recalled Dyche.
“He just laughed and said ‘he’s a Champions League player’. I said ‘okay, he’ll not be coming to Watford then’.
“Looking at him as a young lad when he first arrived I thought he looked a handful then. But he’s more than that. He can play, he’s a physical handful but he’s a fine player, no two ways around it.”