Premier League great Rio Ferdinand has backed Mason Holgate and Michael Keane to flourish at Everton under manager Carlo Ancelotti, as he provided an insightful analysis of the defensive pair's attributes.
Ferdinand ranks Holgate as “one of the best young defenders in England” and revealed he had no doubts the “calm, steely, determined” Keane would succeed at the highest level, having followed his progress since the Blues player was in Manchester United's academy.
With Yerry Mina sustaining a muscle injury in training last week, Holgate and Keane are expected to form Everton’s centre-back partnership when the Blues return to Premier League action on the weekend of 19-22 June.
Holgate has established himself as a first-team regular during the 2019/20 campaign, blending cool, unflustered defending with a capacity to launch attacks with penetrative passes forward.
The 23-year-old’s consistently polished performances saw him heavily tipped for an England call-up before the season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ferdinand, who made 81 senior England appearances over a 14-year period, outlined the factors he believes have been instrumental in Holgate's progress.
“I’ve seen more focus in Mason's performances,” he told evertonfc.com.
“He’s in a really superb place. His form for Everton has been excellent – he’s been one of the most consistent players in a blue shirt.
“He’d been touted as being in the next England squad [before lockdown]. He’s set goals for himself and he’s starting to knock those goals down, one by one.
"He’s defending well and, we all knew that he could pass and play, but I think he’s brought that to another level this season.
“He’s shown authority in the way he has played.
“Everton have got one of the best young centre-halves in the country – that’s a fact.”
Holgate has started 10 of Everton’s 11 Premier League matches since manager Ancelotti’s appointment. The Blues have accumulated 18 points during this period and steadily climbed the Premier League table.
The defender signed a new five year-deal with the Blues in March, committing to the Club until 2025, and Ferdinand is convinced Holgate can fulfil his “huge potential” at Everton.
“He’s not even scratched the surface yet in terms of what he will be in three to four years,” said Ferdinand, who works as a pundit for BT Sport.
“The progression he’s made so far is just the tip of the iceberg with Mason. There is much more to come.
“There are so many targets he’s going to put out for himself to go and achieve, and I think he can do that with the project that’s ongoing at Everton.
“The potential Mason’s got is huge.”
Six-time Premier League winner Ferdinand says Holgate shares several positive characteristics with defensive colleague Keane and believes the pair can build a solid partnership.
“Mason’s got confidence in his own ability and it’s the same with Michael Keane, who I’ve known for a long time,” Ferdinand explained.
“They’ve got that steely determination, too, to want to fight for a position and feel like you should be playing every week.
“That’s what you need if you want to be a top player – you should think, ‘I’m the best here’.
“Both Michael and Mason are also guys who want to learn, want to listen and become better players.
“I think they’ve become really good friends, too, which is good.
“If you can create those relationships off the field, that will only be beneficial. I had that with [Manchester United centre-back partner] Nemanja Vidic. Off the field we were very tight and on the pitch it went well, too.”
Ferdinand recalls keeping a close eye on Keane's development when he was coming through the ranks at United, with the defender’s temperament and composure in possession making an instant impression.
“His quality was undoubted from a young age,” Ferdinand added.
“I remember speaking to [United coach] Warren Joyce about him when he was probably about 16 or 17 and saying, ‘I think he’ll go on and do very well'.
“He was hard-working, very serious about his football. He was a real good talent. He had a steeliness and determination that he was going to get on with his work and there was a confidence that ‘I will get there’ [to the top level].
“His passing was very good. He’s very cool under pressure. He doesn’t get emotional.
“I don’t like emotional defenders, where they get too high when it’s going well and exaggerate if it isn’t going so well.
“He’s level-headed and it’s the same with Mason. They go about their work.”
Keane is closing on 150 Premier League appearances and has won 10 senior England caps.
“I never, ever doubted him,” Ferdinand says. “He’s achieved big things.
“Technically, Michael’s passing was always clean and crisp. He just had to grow into his frame – it took him a little bit longer than others. He went to Burnley and did fantastically well, hence the move to a big club like Everton.
“He plays the game the right way.”
Ferdinand is confident manager Ancelotti’s leadership and tactical nous will help Keane and Holgate further develop, pointing to the Everton boss’s elite-level experience
Ancelotti can count legendary Italian defenders Franco Baresi, Paulo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta among a wealth of world-class footballers he has worked with.
“He will be a great judge and is a person who will be able to guide them,” Ferdinand said.
“He’s managed the best players.
“To being playing for someone like Carlo Ancelotti, with his CV and the players he’s played with and managed… it’s very exciting times for them.”