Michael Keane says his confidence is sky high after resisting some stellar competition to earn an England recall following a series of impeccable performances in the closing months of last season.
Everton defender Keane won the most recent of his 10 senior caps in October last year but remained in touch with national team manager Gareth Southgate after being left out of a Three Lions party the following month.
The 27-year-old has flourished under club boss Carlo Ancelotti, playing every minute of Everton’s nine Premier League games post-lockdown, but admitted nonetheless he was on tenterhooks prior to this week's England squad announcement.
Keane wants to remove any doubt over his future inclusion with next summer’s European Championship finals a major objective.
He will report to St. George’s Park, England’s training headquarters, on Monday, ready for Nations League games against Iceland and Denmark, then return to Everton for a match at Spurs on the opening weekend of the Premier League season on 12 September.
Asked if he felt as good as at any time since joining Everton three years ago, Keane told evertonfc.com: “Yes, I am full of confidence and since the new manger came I have played really well.
“I’ve had a lot of good spells with Everton and at the end of the previous season [2018/19] I was in great form.
“But, like everybody, I need to do it for a whole season, not just half a season, or three-quarters of a season, because that is not getting us where we want to be and where we should be.
“I thought after lockdown I played well and was consistent, so I felt I had a good chance [of being selected for England].
“But there are a lot of good English centre-halves and a big pool to pick from.
“I wasn’t sure if I would be in, so was really pleased when I got the text.
“Hopefully I can play and carry on my form this season and cement my place.
“Gareth Southgate called me when I wasn’t picked in the last squad and I spoke to him over lockdown.
“He was pleased with certain things I was doing.
“There were areas I could improve and I worked on those during the lockdown.
“After we came back I felt I got better in certain areas and performed well.”
Keane is six Premier League games short of reaching his century in the competition for Everton following a transfer from Burnley in summer 2017.
He featured 31 times in the top-flight last term and fixed himself as a first-pick for Ancelotti, starting the final 11 games after an initial period when the Italian manager juggled his centre-halves following his December appointment.
Keane was notably outstanding in Everton's clean sheet efforts against Liverpool, Norwich City and Sheffield United after the coronavirus shutdown.
The former Manchester United player is now aiming to transfer that dependable form to the international stage, with seven England matches scheduled between September and November.
“It is a huge year for England with the Euros next summer,” said Keane, who discovered he was in the latest party via text message hours before Tuesday’s official 2pm squad announcement.
“I missed out on the last World Cup [in 2018], so I am desperate to be involved.
“These seven games are going to be key.
“But while you can do well for England, the main thing is your club form.
“That is what keeps you coming back.
“You can play well for England but if you don’t play well for your club in between you won’t get picked with the number of good centre-backs we have.
“I watch my games back and see how I can improve in every aspect.
“Whether that is on the ball, running in behind, defending the box, heading it – every little thing.
“I am always looking to improve.
“Work ethic is so important.
“Whether you are in good form or not, you have to keep working hard on the training pitch.
“Keep the belief in yourself, which I have always done.
“Even in periods when I’ve not been playing as well as I would like I’ve always had the belief that I can return to the level I know I can reach.”
Keane was handed an England debut by Southgate in March 2017, having won 15 of his 17 Under-21 caps under the former Aston Villa centre-half.
He started and finished the opening five games of England’s successful European Championship qualifying campaign but missed out on the most recent squad nine months ago.
“I have proved on a number of occasions with England what I can do,” said Keane.
“I have had a few disappointing games as well but that is natural.
“You don’t want it to happen but you learn from mistakes and improve.
“Throughout my career, I have bounced back if I’ve had a disappointing spell.
“I have managed to fight my way back into the England squad a couple of times and I am really pleased I have done that again.
“You will make mistakes in your career but have to work to minimise them.
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“It is how you react to them and learn from them to make sure they don’t happen again – or don’t happen consistently.”
On his lockdown conversation with Southgate, Keane added: He wasn’t necessarily telling me things I needed to do to get back in.
“As a team [at Everton] we were inconsistent so that made it a bit more difficult.
“It was more little things he would like to do when we go away with England, like playing out from the back, which is what we do under the new manager at Everton and it suits me.
“We had some good results and performances straight after lockdown.
“Some disappointing games as well but in general I felt I did well.
“It is good of him [Southgate] to do that [maintain regular contact].
“During lockdown, he spoke to every player who has been with England for a catch-up.
“I have worked with him since the Under-21s and we have a good relationship.
“I can call him whenever I want and he will call me, too.
“It is good to have that relationship.
“He knows what kind of player I am.
“I have trained with him loads, he knows my qualities and what I can bring to the team and it definitely helps that we know each other so well.”