Why Jordan Pickford must now be ranked among Europe's top goalkeepers
Background image: SimonOnly, CC BY 2.0
Before Euro 2020's belated start, England fans were split with regards to their starting goalkeeper. Many thought Dean Henderson deserved a look after forcing David de Gea into a back-up role at Manchester United. Others preferred reliable Burnley stopper Nick Pope whose 11 clean sheets led the Premier League this past season. Sam Johnstone was even touted as an outside choice after making more saves than any other stopper in the English top flight.
Jordan Pickford had come under intense scrutiny for several mistakes made at Everton. His goal kicks were erratic. Lack of height was a constant criticism, too, along with his 'little arms'. Randy Newman didn't write Short Keepers, however. For his part, Gareth Southgate wanted a keeper who could play out from the back and backers cited Pickford's tournament experience as an advantage. While his club form was muddled, he had not yet put a foot wrong for his country.
The truth is that Pickford makes mistakes. He loses his head at times in games and can't reach shots that other goalkeepers may parry away. He does kick the ball out of play too often. Yet, the lad's shot-stopping is nothing short of world class. His reflexes are almost superhuman, and in his own words, everything he lacks in height he makes up for in power and agility. His ability to play the ball with his feet under pressure is head and shoulders above rival England keepers. Moreover, he brings the best out of his defenders through being extremely vocal.
Some might say the European Championships came just at the right time for Pickford. He had found form at his club in the season's closing month and entered the tournament with assured confidence. It wasn't luck, however. Pickford knew the Euros were close and his place was under pressure. He'd been taken out of the Everton team for several weeks when on-loan Roma keeper Robin Olsen was brought into the team. The Sunderland-born stopper admitted it was the first time he had been dropped in his career. It motivated him. He focused on removing silly mistakes from his game and retaining his place in the England team.
Pickford and his family received a torrent of online abuse early last season after he was involved in the incident which injured Virgil Van Dijk. The 27-year-old's form subsequently dropped and he was culpable for conceding some big goals. The resilience he showed to bounce back in short order and go on to keep five clean sheets at Euro 2020, was admirable. In winning the tournament's Golden Glove, he broke 1966 World Cup keeper Gordon Banks' England record by going 722 minutes without conceding a goal.
Despite a drop in form and a short spell out of the team, Pickford still kept 10 clean sheets in the Premier League last season. His .711 save percentage, while short of Nick Pope's mark, was still higher than the likes of Sam Johnstone, Kasper Schmeichel and Edouard Mendy. He kept clean sheets in almost a third of all games he played. A season of adversity for a player who broke onto the Premier League scene aged just 21 was still among the best in the league.
There aren't many players, let alone keepers, like Jordan Pickford anymore. The Premier League is full of players completely detached from reality, content to live their lives of luxury and roll in their riches. Pickford was last year spotted singing about Gareth Southgate while drinking pints of beer at the darts. He's from a modest background has remained true and proud of his Wearside roots. He may be an easy target for criticism but have a think before you mock his little arms again. This short keeper has every reason to be in the England goal.