Although England’s run to the semi-finals of the World Cup this summer produced several outstanding individual performances, Jordan Pickford had a particularly impressive tournament
Although England’s run to the semi-finals of the World Cup this summer produced several outstanding individual performances, Jordan Pickford had a particularly impressive tournament. He went into it on the back of a strong first season for Everton but even die-hard Toffees fans might have been a bit surprised at how easily he handled the pressure – especially given that previous England ‘keepers haven’t coped at all. It means that he is one of the bright spots for Everton fans going into the new season.
Pickford probably thought things would be easier for him last season, after his switch from relegated Sunderland, but Everton’s dodgy defence meant he was kept busy. This ensured that he went into the World Cup in strong form, but the early group matches didn’t leave him much room to shine. He could do little about either of the goals conceded against Tunisia or Panama, but the latter match in particular left him largely as a spectator. He did experience a setback in the 1-0 defeat to Belgium, when several people – including fellow goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – suggested that he could have saved the shot that led to the goal. Some have attributed this to rustiness, as Tunisia only managed one shot on target in the first game while Panama had only two in the second, but it is certainly true that the player was just warming up.
It was in the group stages that Pickford really came into his own, starting with the last 16 match against Colombia. A tight match came down to a penalty shootout – which has been the downfall of more than one England team – but it was Pickford who played a crucial role in helping the nation overcome the weight of history. It was his save from Mateus Uribe in the last minutes of the game and then against Carlos Bacca in the shootout that allowed England to squeak through and saw positive attention focused on him for the first time. Indeed, despite his good overall season for Everton that saw him claim a clean sweep of awards at the end of it, there had been occasional criticism even then over his lack of height and command of his area at set pieces. What should be remembered though is that he was playing behind centre backs – in Jagielka, Keane and Williams – who were either ageing, out of form or both. By contrast, during the World Cup he was playing with a defence that had players like Harry Maguire producing equally outstanding displays. Indeed, the combination of his proven ability and a settled line-up in front of him meant we perhaps should have predicted his good displays.
The player is also believed to have benefited from intensive coaching sessions with England goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson that focused on set pieces as well as movement and positioning. All this enabled Pickford to go on to have perhaps his best match of all in the 2-0 quarter final win over Sweden, where he produced three brilliant saves from Marcus Berg – twice – and Viktor Claessen to ensure England’s semi final place. Although that match brought their tournament to an end, the Everton ‘keeper could scarcely be faulted for either goal in the 2-1 defeat against Croatia. Unfortunately for Everton fans, his raised profile means that he is attracting interest from wealthy rivals – with Chelsea the club he is currently being linked with by the media. Everton do not need to sell these days though and he is under long-term contract, so it seems highly unlikely that they would be willing to let one of the jewels in their crown move.
While the fans may have some worries about the squad going into the 2018/19 season, one area that they definitely don’t need to fret about is between the sticks.