How Graeme Souness must be feeling. The former Torino midfielder, in his role as a pundit for Sky Sports, had already passed judgment for Moise Kean just four goalless games into his Everton career with a scathing critique of the striker’s character. His argument was why Juventus had opted to cash in on a player supposedly with the world at his feet.
“At 19, why have they sold him?” he asked. “Personally, slight alarm bell going off in my head. Juventus are arguably the biggest club in Italy, wealthiest club in Italy. Given that they’ve got an older strike force, you’re selling a 19-year-old, who won’t be hurting you wage-wise. They’ve not got £100m-plus for him. I think there’ll be other issues there.
“I don’t know if Juve have a buy-back clause. If they don’t, then that will tell you they’re happy to see him out the door. At 19. It doesn’t make any common sense if you’re Juventus. It’s as if they’re like, ‘Go on, we don’t care how good he’s going to be, you can take him’. Which would suggest off the field activities are not the best.”
The knives soon came out for Souness, with sections of the media quick to point out that Kean had only one year left on his contract with Juve, didn’t sign an extension and the Bianconeri preferred not to lose him for nothing. He was also facing accusations of racial stereotyping, having compared the Italian to Emmanuel Adebayor – a fellow black footballer with a track record of courting controversy.
Everton fans immediately warmed to Kean and did all they could to protect him, raising money to produce a banner with his face and the message ‘No Al Razzismo’, which translates to ‘No to Racism’ in English. They felt the youngster, who was racially abused during Juve’s 2-0 win at Cagliari last season, deserved to shine on a platform devoid of any discrimination.
Sadly for supporters of Kean and Everton, the 20-year-old has given the Toffees minimal return on their €27.5m investment, managing just one goal and an assist in the 22 games since Souness’ outburst. His move to Goodison Park should’ve been the making of him at the highest level, but it has instead been blemished by several off-field misdemeanours.
The most recent came just yesterday, when it emerged Kean had livestreamed a house party at his flat in a private Snapchat group, showing ‘female guests giving lap dances and other suggestive acts’. All of this, despite the UK being placed in a nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in more than 20,000 British deaths. Being late for training sessions is one thing, putting lives at risk is another entirely.
Of course, as bad as it was, he isn’t the Premier League’s biggest ‘covidiot’. That honour goes to Jack Grealish, who allegedly crashed his Range Rover following a 4am party, just hours after he urged fans to stay indoors. And staying in England, Manchester City defender Kyle Walker faces disciplinary action after he hosted a party involving two sex workers. Compared to them, Kean’s little get-together was positively puritan.
Kean has already made history for Italy, becoming the second-youngest player to ever score in an Azzurri jersey when he found the back of the net against Finland in March 2019. He bagged his second goal just three days later and went on to score in four consecutive matches for Juve, but 12 months on and he finds himself on a downward curve that risks spiralling out of control.
Many have likened Kean to Mario Balotelli, a comparison that reeks of racial profiling on the surface. But look closer and there are many more similarities between them. “When I was younger I liked Mario Balotelli, especially during his time at Inter. Mario, too, has been an inspiration for me,” the Everton forward was once quoted as saying.
They also share an agent in Mino Raiola, play in the same position, represent the same country and chose to swap Serie A for the Premier League at a young age. On paper Balotelli may not have been the best choice of role model, given the nomadic nature of his career trajectory, but there are certainly worse than the Brescia hitman, who is teetotal and a pioneer for black Italian footballers.
We’ve seen too many Italian talents fall by the wayside because they lacked the focus and mentality to match their talent. Antonio Cassano this week called himself “the biggest waste of talent” and it’s too late for him to change that history now. It’s not too late for Kean, or Nicolò Zaniolo, his partner in crime during the Italy Under-21 European Championships when they were frozen out for repeatedly turning up late to team meetings.
The COVID-19 crisis has bought Kean some extra time and he has been linked with moves back to Italy in recent months, which suggests he is still valued back home. Maybe he should use the time to look to his inspiration and take note of what not to do, instead of throwing parties during a pandemic, if he wants to avoid becoming the Azzurri’s next great lost hope.