John Stones not in Manchester United target Michael Keane's class
The worst kept secret at Burnley is out -- Michael Keane is set to leave at the end of the season.
Reports suggesting Keane has informed the club of his desire to move to another team will come as no surprise whatsoever to any Clarets supporters, as this has been on the cards for some time.
Even at the start of the season it seemed likely that it would be the last campaign Keane would play for Sean Dyche's side, as he had two years left on his contract and there were few signs he was interested in signing fresh terms.
With Keane about to go into the last 12 months of his deal his imminent departure is inevitable, especially since he progressed into the England team in March, showing off the poise and class in his debut two caps that has made him one of the outstanding young players in the country. He looks certain to be a firm fixture in Gareth Southgate's plans for many years to come and he looks to be a potential future captain of the Three Lions.
Keane was unfortunate to miss out on a place in the PFA Team of the Year -- his colleague Tom Heaton could also have been selected in goal rather than Manchester United's David De Gea -- and the queue of teams expected to try to buy him in the summer will be long. The Premier League's top two sides, Chelsea and Tottenham, are among those to have been linked with him.
Everton are long-term admirers, with Ronald Koeman having spoken publicly about Keane's quality on a number of occasions this season, but there is a case to be made that the 24-year-old is already better than the Toffees and should be aiming to move to a top six side instead. Everton's director of football Steve Walsh tried to take Keane to Leicester City last summer.
A return to Manchester United now appears to be the most likely destination for Keane, who left the club initially on loan in September 2014 having failed to break through under Louis van Gaal. The irony of his move was that for a time Keane later found himself on the bench at Burnley while United were experiencing a defensive injury crisis that would have seen him starting matches. United forking out a world-record £89.3 million to bring back Paul Pogba shows the club is willing to swallow the embarrassment of paying massive amounts to fix past mistakes by resigning players.
Keane, who grew up as a Manchester United fan and is from the local area, may feel he has unfinished business at Old Trafford. He has a close relationship with United legend Rio Ferdinand, who has been a mentor to the youngster, who has a similar relaxed, assured feel about his play.
But Keane has often spoken of how much first-team football has helped him to develop and he will want to ensure he will be getting regular starts wherever he decides to move at the end of the season, with a fee in excess of £20m surely on the cards despite his contract situation.
Burnley's record transfer fee received currently stands at £7m for Jay Rodriguez's move to Southampton in 2012 and that will be obliterated, with the club set to receive a massive profit on the £2m that was paid to sign him permanently.
The Clarets have been planning for Keane's departure for some time and they have a ready-made replacement on the bench, with James Tarkowski having had to be patient since his move from Brentford last January.
Tarkowski is a similar defender to Keane, with the 24-year-old also comfortable with the ball at his feet and quick at covering ground, so he should make a good partner for Ben Mee at the back. With Mee and Keane firmly established as the strongest pairing at the club, Tarkowski's minutes have been limited but he impressed in Burnley's FA Cup matches and Dyche has been careful to keep him involved, even if many of his brief cameos as a substitute have come in midfield.
With Burnley virtually safe in the Premier League ahead of Sunday's home game against United there will be no upset from supporters about the Keane news breaking now, especially if it fires the starting gun on a bidding war for the player's services.
While fees paid to smaller clubs are naturally smaller than those offered to bigger teams, the Clarets can reasonably point to the whopping £47.5m Manchester City paid Everton for John Stones last summer as a relative fee.
Stones had a long-term contract at Goodison Park and was a few years younger than Keane when he got his big move, but there is no comparing the two on performances this season. Keane is a better defender than Stones -- it is not even close -- and he will prove it in the years to come.
Jamie Smith is ESPN FC's Burnley blogger. Follow him on Twitter @nonaynevernet.