Martin Keown was arguably the best of Colin Harvey’s signings, overcoming a slow start to his Goodison career to establish himself as one of the finest centre backs in the nascent Premier League.
A FEISTY, snarling player, his outstanding performances in the heart of the Everton defence elevated him to the England team before financial necessity dictated that his destiny lay elsewhere.
The tall, curly-haired Oxonian started his career at Arsenal, but after a promising start fell out with the club hierarchy over the award of a new contract and in 1986 joined Aston Villa. He spent three seasons at Villa Park, but with the expiry of his contract sought fresh challenges and the move to Goodison came on his 23rd birthday, the £750,000 fee decided by a tribunal.
A cool, quick, hard player, with outstanding aerial presence and the capacity to smother even the most formidable opponents with his man-marking, Keown would emerge as the ideal foil for Dave Watson. And yet, in his first days at Goodison, Keown must have seriously considered whether he had made the right move. Through 1989/90 he featured in barely half of Everton’s matches, while Villa pushed Liverpool strongly for the First Division title. The 1990/91 season was scarcely more productive and he often found himself deputising, out of position, for Andy Hinchcliffe, while Harvey and then Howard Kendall preferred the more experienced centre half pairing of Kevin Ratcliffe and Dave Watson.
RATCLIFFE, however, was nearing the end of his career and injuries had diminished the pace that was once his hallmark. During the 1991/92 season, Keown got his chance and an extended run alongside Watson was one of the few bright factors in a mediocre campaign, leading to an England call-up. When England played Czechoslovakia in Prague in March 1992 Keown got on the score sheet – something he would never manage for Everton – with a spectacular 25-yard effort and would play in all of his country’s matches at that summer’s European Championship Finals in Sweden.
After missing the first two months of the 1992/93 season through injury, Keown’s fine form resumed when he returned to the Everton team. But with his team struggling to score goals and desperately needing transfer funds to sign a striker, Howard Kendall deemed a £2million offer from Arsenal in February 1993 good business.
ON HIS RETURN to Highbury, Keown initially struggled to hold down a first-team place and was often derided for his awkward demeanour. However, the arrival of Arsène Wenger in 1996 saw his career undergo a late and lengthy renaissance that continued until he was in his late thirties.