April 2017 and the kick-off between Manchester United and Chelsea is imminent. In the directors’ gallery, William and Michael Keane shuffle down the aisle adjacent to the press gallery and take their places.
The Heaton Moor-born twins, FA Youth Cup winners with United academy in 2011 and both played by Sir Alex Ferguson, are long gone but stood up and cheered for their boyhood club. Will started and scored in Jose Mourinho’s first friendly at Wigan but is at Hull permanently and Michael is back in the Premier League with Burnley.
The twins are accompanied by their brother, Tom, a qualified lawyer. Michael’s presence is turning heads as United pre-selected him as one of the central halves being considered ahead of the summer transfer window.
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United eventually revive a deal for Victor Lindelof and Michael moves to Everton for £25m. Next time he is at Old Trafford, Everton will be beaten 4-0.
Michael is still at Everton and has achieved 12 England caps while Will, prolific in Wigan’s League One title-winning campaign, is now a Republic of Ireland international.
A Keane returns to United, albeit one who does not play. United have appointed Tom, a partner in Brandsmiths, in a temporary consultancy role to compensate for the departure of former director of football negotiations Matt Judge.
Keane is listed as a member of the New Era agency team representing the Keane twins and Rio Ferdinand is closely involved. Their website states that “Tom’s combination of professionalism and knowledge of the football market is invaluable to clients”.
Despite installing a director of football and a technical director last year, United still depended on agencies to broker certain deals. Base Soccer have brokered moves involving Alexis Sanchez, Amad and Axel Tuanzebe over the past three years.
Tom’s twins achieved 19 GCSEs between them – the majority of them A or A* – at St Bede’s College while Tom studied law.
Brandsmiths biography for Keane notes: “In sport, Tom has extensive experience in the football industry where he has become a trusted advisor and representative to players, managers and well-known pundits. His work for these clients includes the negotiation of high value transfers, contracts and endorsement agreements.
“Clients who work with Tom appreciate his attention to detail and his focus on the business engine behind any agreement or dispute.” “What drew United to the commercial drivers lawyer?” is an open lens for skeptics.
A source who has dealt with United and the Keanes said hiring Tom was “the best thing they’ve done in ages. He knows the players, knows their salaries and understands Man United. He has the number of Declan Rice.” Rice is not an achievable goal this year.
Another source who has worked closely with Keane describes him as “an extremely impressive, smart and cool operator”. A source at the agency found Keane to be a kind contact.
Keane recently approached an agency to offer to oversee their legal work. After a mass exodus at senior level, United’s skeletal staff led them to rely on the legal and finance departments during negotiations for potential signings, led by director of football John Murtough.
The initial report that United had sought Keane’s expertise was met with derision online. He joined Brandsmiths in 2018 and some who have met Keane are wondering what leap he is about to take.
“He’s skilled but not massively experienced,” a source said. “A good guy but a club like this should have someone more experienced.”
Ed Woodward put the judge “at the front”, touching base with the agents and assessing whether a target was aligned with United’s recruitment criteria.
Lindelof nor Keane were not Mourinho’s favorite centre-backs five years ago and shortly after the Chelsea game the Keanes attended, the judge weighed the possibility of a deal for the Paris Saint-Germain enforcer Marquinhos.
United were replayed; Marquinhos signed a new contract two months later.