Playing on the left wing for League Two side Stevenage, teenager Keinan Davis was told he wasn’t meeting the criteria expected of him and that his size was an issue.
“I was too small, not physically ready enough to play for their team,” they told the 19-year-old two-and-a-half years ago. Now, the 6ft 3ins forward has played 20 Championship games for Aston Villa this term and has impressed scoring twice and adding another three assists.
Oh how the Hertfordshire club must regret their decision. Davis has grown up and through the help of the Birmingham side and their backroom staff, he’s filled out his large frame and has an imposing figure which is terrorising English defences.
“I’ve changed a lot. Coming here has helped,” he told Sky Sports. “I’m eating the right food and things are structured by the sports scientists.”
His form has not gone unnoticed and Brighton & Hove Albion, looking to upgrade their attack, have been linked with a £3million move for the 19-year-old.
Angers forward Karl Toko Ekambi is a rumoured Brighton transfer target, and an interest in Celtic’s Moussa Dembélé still exists. Davis wouldn’t be able to carry the weight of the Seagulls attack on his own, but in his short time in the Villa attack has done enough to peak the interest of top-flight clubs.
Steve Bruce won’t be quick to entertain any bids for his young striker just yet, but it shows they are doing something right at Villa Park.
Who is Keinan Davis?
Born in Stevenage, he would start his career with the youth academy of his local team, but was later released.
Another local side, Biggleswade, took him on and the youngster credits Dave Northfield, the man who took him under his wing, with keeping him on the right track.
“He [Northfield] was massive for me,” said Davis. “There were times when I was thinking I didn't really want to play anymore and he told me I was good enough to get into an academy, and as long as I kept playing there I'd get the chance, because we used to have friendlies with different academies to see if we could get scouted. It kept me going.”
He joined the Midlands club in 2015 on the back of an impressive performance in the FA Youth Cup and then progressed his way through the under-18 and under-23 sides.
Bruce handed him his first-team debut in last season’s FA Cup clash against Tottenham Hotspur, coming off the bench for a 13 minute cameo.
He finished the season with six league appearances off the bench, but it’s this term Davis has begun to flourish. He added an assist in his first start, beating Norwich City 4-2 at Villa Park.
“I didn't even know I'd be involved,” he said. “I was just told to come and when I got there the team-sheet was on the projector and I just saw my name on it. I had butterflies at the start but then I just had to get on with it and get into focus.”
Midway through the first half, Davis drifted right, followed by Christoph Zimmermann, he flashed a quick step-over, beat his man and then played a perfectly weighted cross along the box, finding Conor Hourihane for the first of the midfielder's hat-trick.
“This season I was just trying to see if I could get around the first team and be involved, but to start 14 games is crazy,” he continued. “My family kept telling me that if you get into the team just try and keep consistent to stay in it. And if you're not starting stay around the squad.”
Davis is no longer a secret, starting 17 times this campaign, with two goals and three assists there is definitely more to come from the England Under-20 international.
What are Davis’ strengths
Someone his size, you are expecting a bruising, physical forward, but Davis has much more to his game.
Although he has bulked up and has a strong upper-body, the teenager has very quick feet, and the skill to back take advantage.
Too often defenders are drawn in, thinking they can close down the imposing forward, but in a flash, he’s dropped a shoulder, brushed past their already prone leg. Either you are left for dead or you end up bringing him down, he’s a difficult player to stop.
Davis has shown he’s capable of getting his head on the end of crosses, something often taken for granted for men his size. However, it’s his ability to drift wide and commit defenders which sees him stand out.
The 19-year-old completes two dribbles per 90 minutes, which puts him just behind Albert Adomah on 2.1 with players who have featured for over 1000 minutes this season. It puts him above both Robert Snodgrass (1.7) and Jack Grealish (1.6)
He leads the regular Villa attack with 2.6 shots per 90, Jonathan Kodjia has 3.4 per 90, but he has only featured for 534 minutes compared to Davis 1367 minutes. The Stevenage-born man has a much bigger sample size to trust. No one with over 1000 minutes in the team is attempting more shots.
What are Davis’ weaknesses?
His finishing still lacks precision and that lethal touch required to make the step up to the Premier League. Only 0.8 of his 2.6 shots find the target.
“I still need to score more goals. If I can add that to my game I'll be heading towards being the finished article, so I'll work hard to do that. The manager says I have good attributes and I think that as well. Hopefully I can continue in an upwards direction.”
For someone his size and with his body adapting to the growth and physical demands of top-flight football, he can look a little sluggish. Davis has to rely on his skill and strength to beat players, if he can develop a quicker first-step, giving him that half-yard head start and he could become a very dangerous weapon.
How much would Davis cost?
The young forward has been linked with a £3million move to Brighton, but for a teenager with such a high potential upside and the riches involved in the Premier League, it’s understandable to think Villa would be looking for a bigger fee at this stage in his development.
He is contracted until 2020, so there is no danger in the player holding his first professional club to ransom any time soon.
For a club in the playoff spots, looking to regain a place in the Premier League, you are going to need to make it worth their while, rather than a token gesture.
Something nearer the £10million mark would seem reasonable, although the way the current market is going, with every added goal, his potential means the fee is only going to increase.
There are not many English teenage forwards with his skillset playing in the Championship.
If he continues to improve and adds to Villa’s goal tally, he won’t be playing in the second tier for long. Be it with or without the Midlands club.