The Number One

Jordan Pickford has come in for criticism at Everton for his past mistakes and apparent lack of focus and it wasn't that long ago that many were doubting his role as first-choice keeper. Fast forward past the hysterical media reaction to his part in the Van Dijk incident to today and you have a player who appears to have matured tremendously in the harshest of spotlights

Lyndon Lloyd 03/08/2021 31comments  |  Jump to last

There are few more microscopically scrutinised positions in football than the role of England goalkeeper. It’s one that Jordan Pickford has held since entering the 2018 World Cup as the national team’s first choice between the posts despite being relatively inexperienced at international level.

He left that tournament having helped Gareth Southgate’s team into the semi-finals following his heroics in the penalty shootout against Colombia — not to mention pulling off a stunning full-stretch, finger-tip save in extra-time that didn’t even get replayed during the live broadcast — yet was still unable to escape a cloud in the form of debate over his height, his technique, and his supposedly short arms!

Despite some bemusing criticism of his failure to keep out Italy’s equaliser in the Euro 2020 Final last month — had Leonardo Bonucci not knocked in the rebound and had England been able to hold on to Luke Shaw’s early goal, Pickford’s initial save in that moment would probably be talked about by future generations alongside Gordon Banks’s tremendous save against Brazil in 1970 — Everton’s No 1 came out of the European Championship Finals as the tournament’s “golden glove” winner and, again, one of the standout players among the ranks of the Three Lions. Once again, he did his part by standing tall in the penalty shootout, saving two of the five spot-kicks he faced in the final, but it wasn’t to be for Southgate and England.

The sniping is to be expected on social media but when it extends to the commentary booth, as it did with Lee Dixon early in the tournament, it’s hard to escape the feeling sometimes that England players, and keepers especially, just can’t win.

In those circumstances, Pickford’s performances on the international stage this summer should be applauded. They were even more remarkable given the season he endured at Everton where he was the subject of weeks of harsh criticism that occasionally burst into hysteria in the media for his part in the season-ending injury that Virgil van Dijk suffered in the Merseyside derby last October.

The unabashed Liverpool bias was well documented and, nine months on, it continues, with quips in commentary and in tabloid newspapers that further the narrative that Jordan’s actions were either a premeditated assault on Van Dijk or a somehow unique aberration in professional football. At worst, of course, it involved as much fore-thought as Van Dijk’s own challenge on James Rodriguez a couple of minutes earlier which betrayed a desire to “leave one in” on an opponent; to lay down a marker in a hotly-contested local derby. (Van Dijk was just more fortunate — his effort had lasting effects on James that affected his condition for weeks afterwards but his actions didn’t end James’s season.)

Pickford has a reputation for exuberance that went with his cheeky lad image and the slightly off-beat character that many of the game’s best keepers have. He has been tabloid fodder for the fisticuffs he got into outside a Sunderland pub two of three years back and has “previous” when it comes to losing his head a little in matches. His performance back in the northeast for Everton against Newcastle in March 2019 sticks out as the nadir of his time with the Blues, one that drew sharp criticism and calls for him to rapidly mature or risk losing the faith of the fanbase.

“In some respects, [Pickford’s] cocksure, unfazed attitude has been lauded as one of his strengths,” was the argument posited in this column in the wake of that 3-2 defeat on Tyneside, “and, in a high-stakes era when so few players play with a smile on their face, he can bring some much-needed levity but it has bordered on misplaced arrogance at times this season and it's a trait that can quickly become a liability.”

If he appeared thereafter to eschew the clownery, Jordan was still prone to worrying lapses in focus of the kind that lost a Merseyside derby in agonising fashion in December 2018. Had it not been for a hair’s-breadth VAR decision, one such instance would have gifted victory to Liverpool in that Goodison derby last season and there were enough examples in the second half of the previous campaign to have fans once again questioning whether he was still the long-term answer as first-choice goalkeeper at the club.

It prompted Carlo Ancelotti to not only recommend the signing of a goalkeeper capable of pushing Pickford for the No.1 spot — it had been generally believed that a lack of genuine competition had allowed him to get sloppy — but to also rotate Robin Olsen into the side for much of the first half of the 2020-21 campaign. If Evertonians saw little of the manager they thought they were getting in the Italian during his 18 months with the club, that piece of man-management was, at least, vintage Ancelotti and it proved to be an important aspect of Pickford’s marked improvement in 2021.

The other important component was Pickford’s decision to seek help from a professional psychologist to help him deal with the mental parts of his game, absorb the pressure of having to fight for his place and, in no small part, deal with the overblown media reaction to the events involving Van Dijk.

The result of all of those factors was a return to his best club form since his first season at Everton following his big-money move from Sunderland in 2017 and a continuation of the terrific standards he had set at international level for England. Indeed, despite the debates about his temperament and analysis of his form in the Premier League for Everton, Pickford has never really given anyone cause to doubt his status as England’s No.1. And yet the poisoned pens of some of the nation’s football writers and the jerking knees of the nation’s fans on social media always feel poised to denigrate him at the slightest hint of a mistake.

Everton go into 2021-22 under new manager Rafael Benitez with a new back-up goalkeeper in the form of Asmir Begovic, an experienced hand who has already demonstrated how capable he is with two excellent displays for the club against Millonarios and Pumas in Florida, but unlike a year ago, there is no doubt who will be the first-choice starter between the sticks when the action kicks off against Southampton on 14th August.

His next error won’t be too far away — all goalkeepers make them; it’s impossible to remain mistake-free — but the indications now are that they will be more routine and far less frequent. If that continues into the new season, it will be huge credit to Jordan Pickford, a player who appears to have matured significantly in a short period of time, elevating himself above the complacency, tomfoolery and pantomime villainy that was holding him back from being regarded among the best in his position in the game.

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James Flynn
1 Posted 04/08/2021 at 00:42:32
"You have a player who appears to have matured tremendously in the harshest of spotlights"

All for it, myself. Because, the last half-season excluded, we needed better than what he was delivering.

C'mon Jordan. Play the way you've been these months and help get us to Europe.

Derek Thomas
2 Posted 04/08/2021 at 01:05:49
You're mostly preaching to the choir here but sadly, down the years the ongoing media theme – RedShite lackeys to a man – will be that the blessed St Virgil was never the same after Pickford 'did him'... like it was Dave Mackey and Jimmy Husband or Suarez and Mirallas.

Pickford seems to have grown up a bit – long may it continue... now we've just got to get the 10 in front of him sorted.

Brian Murray
3 Posted 04/08/2021 at 01:31:07
God bless Jordan. Saved us ( me) from the trophy parade malarkey if the kopite press are to be believed that he alone was the reason Man City walked to the title. Always be grateful for him for that. Now, he's the least of our problems... that's the biggest compliment he can have for now.
Peter Creer
4 Posted 04/08/2021 at 02:04:28
I have to say that Jordan Pickford has kept the doubters quiet. He was the keeper for England at the World Cup semifinal and has now led them to the next step at these Euros. The Lee Dixon comments early in the tournament were completely uncalled for but were in line with the scepticism that many pundits show towards Our Number One.

It will be nice to see him continue this great form as we start this next season.

Danny O’Neill
5 Posted 04/08/2021 at 06:19:00
I for one was concerned about Jordan a couple of years ago. Not so much ability-wise, his mentality.

Like a lot of modern goalkeepers, there was no doubting his agility and shot-stopping capabilities.

Yes, he lacked decision making in coming off his line and command of the box and his defence, something I always felt Tim Howard was not great at. But his instinct to make the save has always been great. The leadership stuff would / should always come with age and experience.

What has improved and been genuinely great to see is that he has matured and seemingly calmed down. The "calm down" bit was a problem for him. The rush of blood moment; the brain fart waiting to happen. He seems to have realised it and is better for it. But as you say, Lyndon, there will be another mistake or two in there. Tell me a footballer who doesn't make a mistake. Goalkeepers and their centre-back brothers always come under more scrutiny for a mistake because the consequences are usually punished more severely.

Well done Jordan, you are maturing into the fine keeper that was always in there. And at 27, still relatively young for a keeper. He won't peak until he's about 32 so will get even better. We often forget that about young goalkeepers when we are crucifying them.

Now here's a worrying thought given we've all been discussing transfers and FFP. Another of our sellable assets?

Andrew Ellams
6 Posted 04/08/2021 at 07:00:57
For me, the Pickford story is a non-story because we're not going to attract anybody better. He's clearly been a different player since Christmas and long may that continue.

Just wait until the first derby is on the horizon for this season – the media will drag the whole thing back up again.

Steve Shave
7 Posted 04/08/2021 at 07:26:14
Good piece giving deserved credit and acknowledgement to our No 1. I want to see the Blues get behind him this season; I have criticised him at times myself but, on several occasions on here, I have felt a need to loudly praise his upturn in form in the 2nd half of the season.

A year ago, he looked like he had the yips and would be following Joe Hart down the tunnel into goalkeeping obscurity.

It takes guts and heart to do what he has done and for this as Evertonians we should be proud and show the fella, get behind him and see what he can do. Well done, Jordan Pickford, take a bow, son.

Jim Harrison
8 Posted 04/08/2021 at 07:43:08
I thought he was a goner mid-way through last season but turned it around.

It wasn't just Dixon. Carragher has had a pop during the World Cup too.

As for Van Dijk? Guy has spent seasons clattering people.

Charles Brewer
9 Posted 04/08/2021 at 08:04:27
Position by position, Jordan Pickford was probably the best player in the Euro 2020 competition. If you want to look at lack of character and inability to play under pressure, look at the pathetic management and the last three penalties England took.
Brian Murray
10 Posted 04/08/2021 at 09:23:54
Danny post 5, his decision making coming off his line was total perfection in the Goodison derby. Bollox to em.
Allen Rodgers
11 Posted 04/08/2021 at 09:29:41
Glad you mentioned Van Dijk clattering James. Totally ignored by the ref and media of course. To some extent, James got his own back by that pass to Richarlison in the away derby.
Ian Burns
12 Posted 04/08/2021 at 09:38:41
Great piece, Lyndon. I thought Jordan was superb in the Euros, apart from some misplaced distribution in one particular game.

What he needs now is a solid, regular defence in front of him and he will become the very least of our worries – which is as high a compliment one can give to any goalkeeper.

The first derby with Van Dijk on the same pitch will be interesting – can you imagine how the RS media will be giving it some, writing this one up!

Brian Williams
13 Posted 04/08/2021 at 09:42:47
England's player of the tournament in the Euros – by far.
Mike Galley
14 Posted 04/08/2021 at 10:06:19
Allen @11.

Let's not forget that Van Dijk also tried to ‘leave one on' Calvert-Lewin in the same period of the game. Another incident from that derby that never gets a mention.

Danny O’Neill
15 Posted 04/08/2021 at 10:16:45
Danny O’Neill
16 Posted 04/08/2021 at 10:29:22
I don't think the link is working. Seems to be on a loop.

But the URL takes you to an interesting picture of Van Dijk making a tasty challenge on a Napoli player. Just as he tried it on a few of our players, Rodriguez in particular, in that derby before he was injured by Jordan who was doing nothing more than protecting his goal. As a goalkeeper should.

Bleat and moan? Hypocrisy at its best. He likes to leave a stud in himself.

Danny Broderick
17 Posted 04/08/2021 at 10:50:25
None of us know what it is like to handle the media pressure that elite footballers are under. Tyrone Mings has recently spoken about his own mental health issues and seeing a psychologist to cope with everyone thinking he was going to be a weak link in the Euros. Pickford has been under similar pressure for Everton and England for a few years now.

I’ve been critical of Pickford for the mental side of his game - lack of focus/concentration, decision making, rushes of blood. He has also seen a psychologist and seems to have really sorted out this part of his game. He’s always had the ability - now he seems to be maturing. Let’s hope his form continues into next season.

I personally think he will always drop the odd clanger. But if he can do the bread and butter stuff well, and bring a bit more calmness to him and the defenders (like he has been doing recently), he can be forgiven for the odd blip.

Barry Rathbone
18 Posted 04/08/2021 at 11:19:56
Don't agree with any of this the fella got criticism because he was throwing them in and generally poor. Kudos for looking like he might of cut the nonsense and had a good euro but it's a start not a finish. The level needs maintaining for at least another season and thereon in to remove memories of debacles past.

On the subject of perceived Liverpool bias re VVD etc, well, that's our own fault no one at the club ever stands up for themselves. Remember Suarez taking the piss out of Moyes doing his "dive" right in front of him as Brendan nob'ead Rodgers laughed his cock off?

Moyes should have kicked Suarez in the bollocks and chinned Rodgers there and then not stood there like one of Lewis's. Too pliant at this club.

Nemo me impune lacessit

John Raftery
19 Posted 04/08/2021 at 14:11:54
Pickford was excellent in the last few weeks of last season and during the Euros. Before then he was woeful, one of the worst keepers we have had. Credit for that goes to the lad himself and to those who supported him in his rehabilitation. If he can maintain the form he has shown since March he might well earn us the extra half dozen points or so which would take us close to the top seven.
Barry Hesketh
20 Posted 04/08/2021 at 14:45:07
I don't know for certain, but I'd bet that Pickford has saved very many more certain goals against Everton than he's been responsible for conceding. He's made some extremely silly and avoidable mistakes at certain times and one howler in a high-profile match seems to have cemented his reputation as a poor keeper. If Everton can obtain a better keeper to replace Pickford then fine, but until that time, he's the best we have on our books and we should support him and not be swayed by the media's narrative surrounding this particular player.

He's far from the worst keeper Everton has ever had, and far from the best, but he has the potential to improve and if he keeps his head in the right place, he has the talent to prevail for club and country for many a year to come.

John Crook
21 Posted 04/08/2021 at 15:49:08
Pickford now seems far more composed and quite clearly these sports psychological therapy sessions he has been attending are paying off. It is also important to understand that Pickford is still around 4 or 5 years before a goalkeeper hits his peak. With the addition of Begovic, I think this will make our goalkeeping department the strongest it has been for some time.

When I first saw that Begovic had signed, I thought he was one of those short-term veteran keepers age 39 or 40. I didn't realise he was only 34. At the age of 34 and with constant Premier League experience from Bournemouth, I think he could be the perfect back-up keeper who will get a few chances to play (probably in the League Cup).

Now is probably the time for Virginia to get a full season of first-team football in the Championship. He looked excellent in that cup game against Man City last year, so now is the time to get a decent loan.

We are not going to win anything this season but I think with this strong goalkeeping department and Rafa's ability to coach the likes of Godfrey, Keane, Holgate into better defenders, then I'm 98% convinced we will be a lot more defensively solid next season,

Darren Hind
22 Posted 04/08/2021 at 18:08:42
Some crap written about our boy Jordan this year.

In my totally unbiased opinion, I thought his tackle on St Virgil was the best (and the fairest) I've seen since Peter Reid, err... "dispossessed" Marwood.

He wasn't bad in the Euros either.

Stan Schofield
23 Posted 04/08/2021 at 18:40:44
It's always been clear that Pickford is a top keeper, and all the doubts about him expressed by some on ToffeeWeb are simply typical of many negative comments on ToffeeWeb of Everton players who are top calibre. That is, they are shite, need moving on, their wages are too high, have a high opinion of themselves, etc.

The only thing that is shite is the set of such opinions about Everton players.

Jordan Pickford is quite simply a fucking hero, in the way he's dealt mentally with all the shit that's been thrown at him, especially since the injury to Van Dijk. Shit from not only the media, whose so-called ‘profession' is peddling shite, but also some Evertonians, who should be fucking ashamed of themselves.

Danny O’Neill
24 Posted 04/08/2021 at 18:56:02
Stan, I think that's where you have to differentiate between judging an individual performance, both player and team.

And then looking at the potential and bigger picture.

As Michael K would call, it is right to judge and call each game as it is seen.

But then there is the bigger picture.

I would imagine by the time Jordan is into his 30s, he is going to be some keeper. I hope that is with Everton, even if he has a stinker on the first game of the season.

Neil Tyrrell
25 Posted 04/08/2021 at 19:41:40
I can't stand Lee Dixon; glad I didn't have to listen to him during the Euros. Instead, in Canada on TSN, we got stuck with Kevin Kilbane in the studio calling Jordan "England's weak link, a mistake waiting to happen" etc. Absolute dickhead.

I used to criticize him too but he was great in the second half of the season. And if memory serves we scored twice off headers in the Goodison derby, Van Dijk being off the pitch didn't hurt there. Player of the Season for me for that reason, as well as how he played after Christmas.

Jerome Shields
26 Posted 04/08/2021 at 20:19:03
Pickford has been wise enough to have sought help and has effectively applied it to his game. Since the later part of last season and during the Euros, he has been outstanding.
Jack Convery
27 Posted 04/08/2021 at 20:28:38
I reckon Pickford deserves all the plaudits he gets now. He's done the hard yards and turned his game around.

I'm glad, Lyndon, you mentioned the part Ancelotti had in his turning his career around. Man management at its best. He seemed to do the same for Tom Davies as he was much better in the second part of last season too.

I see Villa are buying very well – Buendia, Bailey and now Ings. All players who would improve Everton. Whoever is in charge of Villa's transfer policy could teach us a thing or two...

Matthew Williams
28 Posted 06/08/2021 at 22:31:31
Excellent article,perfectly sums our current number one Keeper,along with Godfrey they both had a really decent end to last season.

As for the rest...generally just poor and sadly our youngster's weren't trusted enough by Cashflo.

Frank Sheppard
29 Posted 07/08/2021 at 10:43:58
He has never let England down. Let’s hope he carries his excellent form and new found calmness into the new season, and many more to come for us.
John Burns
30 Posted 08/08/2021 at 10:17:17
Lyndon you said, 'His next error won't be too far away'. Spot on.
Mick O'Malley
31 Posted 09/08/2021 at 13:23:34
He might not let England down but he lets Everton down regularly, I thought he improved a lot when Olsen was brought in as back up so let’s hope Saturdays cock ups are the last and he can take the form he showed from last season into the new one COYBS !

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