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Ronaldo's replacement? Everton flop Kean returns to Juventus with a 'new mentality' and a point to prove

3:00 PM SGT 11/9/21
Cristiano Ronaldo Moise Kean Juventus Italy GFX
The 21-year-old has always had the talent to succeed at the highest level but there have long been lingering doubts over his professionalism

Just hours before Italy's must win-meeting with Belgium at the 2019 Under-21 European Championship in Reggio Emilia, Moise Kean posted a video on Instagram of him singing the chorus of the Benji & Fede song 'Dove e Quando'.

"Tell me where and when," the lyrics go, "tonight I won't arrive late, and I have no more stupid excuses."

That post was quickly deleted after Kean and his great friend Nicolo Zaniolo turned up late for a team meeting. Kean, thus, spent the entirety of what he had previously described as "one of the biggest games of my career" on the bench.

The episode rather summed up Kean at the time: a bright, engaging, fun-loving character with a minor but nonetheless frustrating penchant for unprofessionalism.

Of course, he was still only 19 at the time and it's not easy to grow up in such an intense media spotlight. 

Kean, remember, wasn't just viewed as the answer to Italy's longstanding goalscoring problems when he broke through at Juventus at the age of 16, he also became the poster boy of a new generation of Italians: young, black and defiant.

After becoming Italy's second-youngest goalscorer with his strike in a 2-0 win over Finland in March 2019, he addressed the worrying rise in anti-immigration policies in Italian politics by declaring: "I'm sorry but we're all in the same country and if we live here, we must be treated as Italians."

The following day, the Gazzetta dello Sport 's front page proudly proclaimed: "Yes we Kean!"

Less than a week later, after being racially abused throughout Juventus' Serie A meeting with Cagliari at the Sardegna Arena, Kean celebrated his late goal by standing in silence in front of the Curva Nord, with his arms outstretched, and his gaze fixed firmly upon those who had subjected him to monkey chants and vile taunts.

It was a remarkable and empowering image. As Juventus team-mate Giorgio Chiellini said afterwards, "Moise is a good face for Italy, a symbol of the rebirth of our movement."

The defender was right, of course, but that was still a hell of a burden for a young man to carry. 

"[We] shouldn't put too much pressure on Kean," Italy coach Roberto Mancini told reporters at the time. "He can’t solve all our problems by himself."

Indeed, Kean, like any teenager, had his own issues to resolve. He was, as he has freely admitted several times, a "bit of a hot head" as a teenager.

There was no malice in his character, or indeed his game, but he had a propensity for getting himself into completely avoidable trouble.

For example, when Mancini went to watch Kean play for the Italy Uunder-21s against Republic of Ireland in Dublin in October 2019, just a few months after his misstep at the Euros, the striker got himself sent off for an innocuous but pointless clash with Troy Parrott less than 20 minutes after coming off the bench.

"Moise is always involved," the Azzurri boss lamented. "He needs to be more careful."

Of course, Kean was struggling at the time at Everton; his move to the Premier League not going according to plan at all.

He hadn't wanted to leave Juventus but the club found an offer of €27.5 million (£25m/$32.5m) too good to refuse, given their forward line already featured the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala.

Everton was a poor choice, too. Then-manager Marco Silva hadn't requested Kean and he hadn't initially been a transfer target of director of football Marcel Brands either. Agent Mino Raiola was the driving force behind the deal.

Kean scored just twice in 33 appearances in all competitions for Everton, with the lowlight of his time on Merseyside arriving at Old Trafford in December 2019, when he was hauled off by interim boss Duncan Ferguson just 18 minutes after coming on as a substitute.

Making such a move was, of course, the Scot's prerogative, but Kean definitely didn't deserve to be snubbed as he trudged off the field, with Ferguson refusing to even look at the forward.

There is no denying, though, that Kean didn't help himself during his time at Goodison Park. Just a month before his Old Trafford humiliation, he had been dropped from the squad for a game against Southampton after missing a team meeting for the second time. 

However, last season's loan move to Paris Saint-Germain changed something in Kean.

"I like to live the life of a kid my age but now I'm in a team with great people that have families, I have to be like them," he explained in April. "Football has helped me become a man. I left home early and slowly but surely I've become more responsible."

Juve still had lingering doubts, though, before bringing him back to Turin just before the close of the transfer window.

Kean had excelled at the Parc des Princes, with a more professional approach resulting in 13 goals in 26 Ligue 1 appearances. However, in his first start back at Everton, in August, he was sent off for another pointless altercation in a League Cup tie at Huddersfield.

With Ronaldo on his way out the door, Juve needed to bring in another forward and coach Massimiliano Allegri, who had given Kean his debut, remained convinced of the player's attributes.

However, Chiellini was instructed to give Kean a call to ascertain if he really had matured. Happily, any concerns were quickly dispelled and Juve re-signed their academy product on a €7m (£6m/$8.3m) loan deal with a view to a permanent transfer for an additional €28m (£24m/$33m).

Kean has yet to make his second debut for the Bianconeri. But that is likely to come as a starter in Saturday's massive Serie A showdown with Napoli at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, with Kean having wasted little time in reminding everyone of his talent.

On Wednesday night, with Italy's attack decimated by injuries, Kean was recalled to the starting line-up after missing out completely on Mancini's Euro 2020 squad, and scored twice in a 5-0 rout of Lithuania.

“It was important to get back in this shirt and give 100 per cent for the jersey, as it means so much to me every time," he told RAI Sport after the 2022 World Cup qualifier in Reggio Emilia.

“It was not easy to be at home watching the Euros, but I was always in front of the television cheering on my team-mates. They brought home the trophy for Italy and that’s what matters."

What matters now for Kean, though, is that he continues in this vein, and the early signs are promising.

"It’s all about hard work, how professionally I approach things," he added. "My team-mates at Juve gave me a warm welcome, I am working every day and have come back with new objectives, a new mentality."

Very few players get a second shot at success at a club like Juventus but he has always had the potential to do great things for his club, his country and indeed his compatriots.

Now, it seems, he has returned to Turin with a new outlook on his career. 

He's still incredibly young, of course. Mistakes will still be made. But the penny has finally dropped: Moise Kean now accepts that the time for stupid excuses is well and truly over.