The criticism of Jordan Pickford by some pundits, commentators and journalists came quickly at this World Cup but he answered them brilliantly against Colombia
The criticism of Jordan Pickford by some pundits, commentators and journalists came quickly at this World Cup and was so unsurprising, it felt almost worthless even bringing it up as a point of discussion. As sure as night follows day, the national media and a few of the cabal of figures from the game past and present wheeled out onto the BBC and ITV sets for coverage of the events in Russia went into build-them-up-knock-‘em-down mode.
The recipient of the hatchet treatment before the tournament was Raheem Stirling for his ill-advised but ostensibly insignificant gun tattoo. Following England’s first defeat in this summer’s Finals, it was Pickford who was derided for being too short for a goalkeeper and for opting to attempt to save Adnan Januzaj’s winner for Belgium last Thursday with “his wrong hand.”
No matter that Neville Southall, one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time and certainly the best around at the peak of his powers in the mid-1980s, was also 6’ 1”. What he lacked in Courtoisian height he made up for in sheer spring, reflexes, agility and reading of the game.
And the decision to go with his left rather than the glove closer to the trajectory of the ball has been backed by almost all other goalkeepers — Courtois was one inexplicable critic — and yet, while he shouldn’t have needed to, it still felt like Pickford had to put in a redemptive performance against Colombia last night to silence a few of those critics. Of course, a great goalkeeper will provide plenty of evidence proving his worth in the natural course of a match and that was the case in England’s Round of 16 win in Moscow.
He was handed the opportunity to be a hero during the penalty shootout and he produced, thrusting up a strong hand to stop Carlos Bacca’s spot kick and setting former Everton reserve player, Eric Dier, to send England through. It will go down as a memorable World Cup moment for the nation but, depending on how far England progress, it’s significance and reverence could also be further magnified.
Yet his best moment, one that should go down as one of the saves of the tournament, will be largely forgotten outside of Merseyside and Wearside because Colombia’s equaliser would come from the resulting corner and the penalty drama that would unfold half an hour later. It established, however, his first credential as a world-class goalkeeper on the international stage. Mateus Uribe’s brilliant half-volleyed injury time shot from 30 yards was amazing in its own right but it was eclipsed by a seemingly impossible save by Pickford where he seemed to take flight to claw the ball away from his top corner. He had had very little to do for 90-plus minutes but he was alert when called upon at the crucial moment.
Everton’s relationship with the England team, analysed on these pages after the last World Cup in Brazil, has been a complicated and sometimes strained one, not usually favourable to the Blues. The churlish, reflex, almost vindictive criticism of a player not representing one of the big six clubs gave further weight to the trepidation that many Evertonians feel when their players are called away for England duty.
The media will be waiting to pounce on his next slip, perceived or otherwise — he is still relatively young with only eight caps after all but you hope it won’t be too costly. You also get the feeling, though, that Everton’s No.1 has the talent, maturity and fortitude to keep putting the doubters back in their place. Vindication was sweet for Jordan Pickford last night; for the Toffees it’s further proof that the club nabbed a good ‘un when they signed him from Sunderland