August 9, 2022

You could say that the worst thing that could have happened to Everton at the end of last season was for her to come to her conclusion. Boosted by the budding bond between supporters, manager and player, the Toffees had extricated themselves from a relegation battle that seemed destined to end their long stay in the top half.

The Premier League giants were brought down at Goodison Park, Frank Lampard was Merseyside’s toast and the players who had struggled with form for several months appeared to be back to their best. Such chemistry can be difficult to create and easy to lose, but Michael Keana veteran of the last five seasons at Everton, sees no sign that the bond the club has built in the first months of 2022 could fade.

“The bond is still there, 100%,” he told CBS Sports. “The last six weeks of last season were probably the toughest times of my career, but also the best to see how Everton fans, the whole club came together in a desperate time. Obviously, in general, it was a season to forget. But this time it was something special, what the fans gave us, the energy they gave us players and staff, which we then managed to be delivered to the field.

“It was a time that I will never forget, I know all the guys who were here will never forget. I hope we can continue that momentum, that connection with the fans this season. I think we showed, when we are together like this, what we can do. It was a special place and a very difficult place to come for the opposition.”

Although Everton’s aspirations are rightly well above 16th place, it could be argued that this was the kind of campaign the club needed to pull themselves out of the drift that had set in over the years. past. The two seasons leading up to 2021-22 had seen them stuck in the Premier League mid-table, and even before that there were slightly unsatisfactory eighth places without any deep runs in cup competitions.

Deeply disappointing, although the last term may have been in full, it at least ended with a club, fans and players united in pursuit of a common goal. They may have lost Richarlisonbut in the break-in they may have found some inner qualities that will serve them just as well next season.

“Everyone realized how bad it was and we were pulling in the same direction no matter what,” Keane said. “Whether you were playing or not playing, there was no sulking. Everyone was sticking together, us and the fans. It was just great to be a part of it and obviously, looking back now we are sure, maybe it will be a good thing in the future.

“As players we saw how important the fans are, not that we didn’t already know that, but the way they were the last six weeks was something we had never seen. We have seen what they can look like and what they can do, how much they can push us Obviously we don’t want to be in that situation again, we hope a lot to improve this year and give the fans happier times because they went through a lot last year. most of the season, it wasn’t good enough. And we don’t want to do that to the fans anymore.”

At the heart of Everton’s revival seemed to be Lampard’s strength of personality, an “attitude and personality” as Keane puts it that fits perfectly with the club’s supporters and ethos. In the run-in, his team hasn’t always been the easiest to watch, but fans have come to admire the attitude his team is playing with.

Keane expects 2022-23 to bring a more proactive approach from Lampard, one that allows him to showcase his skills on the ball, and he is certainly set to work at the start of pre-season. “[The manager] has been brilliant since he arrived, he has galvanized a team, pushed us in the same direction, playing better football and getting better results,” he said. “Coming in the middle of the season, this It’s not easy for a new manager to get all his ideas across, he’ll be looking to do that more in this pre-season.

“We’ve only been back to training for four days now and it’s been really tough, we know we’re going to be pushed in pre-season and that’s a good thing. We weren’t good enough in the year last – we needed to be fitter, sharper, stronger. I think we’re definitely going to be that judging by the first four days we’ve been back. At the same time, it’s nice. Lots of football as well as racing – not just racing for fun, mixing it up well. I think we’ll be in good shape in a few weeks.

Giving those fans something to cherish begins next week when Lampard’s side fly to the United States for two pre-season games, taking on Arsenal in Baltimore on July 17 before facing Minnesota United in Saint Paul. four days later. Everton have a rich history of American players at their club – notably Landon Donavan and Tim Howard – so it’s perhaps no wonder they have such a passionate fanbase in the United States.

Everton are regulars on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean; last year they were one of the few teams to travel overseas ahead of the 2020-21 season and won the Florida Cup. “When we went to Orlando last year the numbers were fantastic. You see how much they love the club and how much they love all the players. They get up all day to watch our games. with time difference, so it’s nice to be out there and see them and witness their support and we want to give back to them, kind of say thank you for the support they give us.

Pre-season tours also give new teammates the chance to develop bonds on and off the pitch, not that that’s such a pressing concern for Everton’s new centre-back. James Tarkowskiwith whom Keane built an impressive partnership over 18 months together at Burnley. Around this time, Sean Dyche’s side won promotion to the Premier League, where the second-best defensive record in the bottom half of the table saw the Clarets avoid relegation.

It’s no surprise that when Keane realized his former colleague might be available on a free transfer at the end of the season, he was among those leading the charm offensive to get him to Goodison Park, despite the interest of AstonVilla and West Ham.

“I spoke to Tarki probably two or three weeks ago, before the announcement,” Keane said. “I just told him what a great group of guys we have here, the staff, the manager, how brilliant they have been and he would really appreciate that. At the time he said he was coming here. I was really happy for him and looking forward to playing with him.

“I think we’re both pretty dominant centre-halves. We’re both strong physically, good in the air, good on the ball and we can handle it. Playing with each other always helps. We know the other’s games very well, he works. Obviously, five, six years ago, I would like to think that I evolved. He evolved. Hopefully we can be even better.”

If so, then Keane may just have reason to hope that he can return to the England side. The 29-year-old earned the last of his 12 England caps but hasn’t made an appearance since November 2020. The centre-back appears to be one place Gareth Southgate is unlucky for options. form. A strong start to the season and Keane will be hoping to work his way into the 26-man squad for the World Cup.

“I haven’t taken it out of my head in any way. I know it’s there. It’s an opportunity for me to play really well for six months, to show Gareth what I can do again. J ‘ve been there in the past a He knows what I’m doing. But if I can play my best for six months, I think I have a chance. I would love to go to Qatar. I’ve never participated in a major tournament with England. It’s always something I’ve wanted to do.

“We’ll have to wait and see, but all I can focus on is how I’m playing for Everton, how we’re doing as a team here. And if it takes me to Qatar, then amazing. I’m going to give it my all and hopefully, I can put myself in his thoughts again.”

That would make a good U-turn; 2022 had started with Everton battling for their Premier League place, now Keane believes his year could end with a World Cup. If so, he will need to maintain the momentum he and his Everton teammates built in the spring.

Everton USA pre-season schedule

Saturday

July 16

Everton v Arsenal

7 p.m.

Baltimore, Maryland

M&T Bank Stadium

Wednesday

July 20

Minnesota United v Everton

8 p.m.

St. Paul, Minnesota

Allianz field