The Student
Sport
Get the save on! Is Pickford good enough for England?

Get the rave on. This is what England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has printed on his England football boots. Last summer, many England fans would argue that after his sublime saves against Colombia and Sweden at the 2018 Russia World Cup, followed by saving and even scoring a penalty against Switzerland in the UEFA Nations League, that Pickford can inscribe whatever he likes on his boots. Indeed, his performances on the international stage have largely been impressive, but the Everton goalkeeper’s performances at club level have begun to call into question his place between the sticks.

Pickford has had a relatively successful, if still quite sheltered career. Beginning at Sunderland at a young age, he was continually loaned out into the Football League before earning the starting job for the Premier League side in 2016. Despite the Black Cats’ woeful season, the young keeper was nominated for PFA Player of the Year in 2017. This was followed by a £30 million move to Everton. His time at Goodison Park can best be described as inconsistent.

Generally good performances have been recently marred by high-level mistakes, such as against Newcastle, Crystal Palace, and most notably, a jaw-dropping error to gift Divock Origi, and Liverpool, a 96th minute winner in the Merseyside Derby. There is very little room for error at the zenith of the game, especially for goalkeepers, and with lots of English talent in this position, Pickford’s place in the England team has come into question. In this regard, manager Gareth Southgate definitely has options to consider ahead of this summer’s European Championships.

Jordan Pickford doesn’t stand out amongst his compatriots, especially when factoring in Premier League performances and his occasional errors. Dean Henderson has burst onto the scene with a very impressive debut season in the Premier League with Sheffield United. However, the Manchester United loanee is still just 22, and is yet to be capped by England. In fact, Pickford has nearly double the number of caps as all England’s alternative shot-stoppers combined. This includes 36-year-old Watford keeper Ben Foster, and 33-year-old Tom Heaton, of Aston Villa. 

Similarly, there is no rush to force Dean Henderson in, as he is clearly still developing as a goalkeeper who one can foresee replacing David De Gea at Old Trafford quite soon. 

This leaves a somewhat two-horse race between Nick Pope and Pickford. Pope is arguably a better technical goalkeeper; a ‘safer pair of hands’. Nonetheless,  goalkeeping in the 2020’s is increasingly asking goalkeepers to become sweepers with the passing range of a central midfielder. Pickford’s distribution is far more advanced than Nick Pope’s, and it was partly Pickford’s competence with the ball at his feet which secured him the England job after a 0-0 draw with Germany in 2017. 

In Europe’s top five leagues, Burnley (2nd), Sheffield United (12th), and Watford (13th) are amongst the teams with the lowest passing success percentage – this is usually an indicator of a ‘long-ball’ team, as opposed to England’s ball-playing defensive tactics of Russia 2018. This creates a need for more tactical adaptation than one might assume when simply swapping goalkeepers. Jordan Pickford is yet to play poorly in an England shirt, and for these reasons, it isn’t unreasonable to ask fans to be patient and back him, whilst understanding that there are a hoard of talented keepers who could replace him should he slip up. For English football, this is really not a bad dilemma to have.

Image rights: Sven Mandel via Wikimedia Commons