Jordan Pickford will start the Euros as England's No 1
Jordan Pickford’s earliest England memory is of David Seaman being beaten from 45 yards, so he has grown up fully aware of the fine line goalkeepers tread at major tournaments.
Pickford is too young to remember Seaman’s penalty heroics at Euro ’96 but six years later saw Ronaldinho’s lob in Shizuoka, his free-kick taking advantage of the England keeper’s positioning being off by a couple of paces. From within sight of a World Cup semi-final, to the devastation of being knocked out by a freak goal.
England’s current No 1 is ready for the scrutiny after a season in which he has been left out of the Everton team at times, been pushed by his goalkeeping rivals and has needed to return from injury and stabilise his form.
The 27-year-old has worked with a sports psychologist and his response has been putting in hard work on the training ground at St George’s Park with Martyn Margetson, to keep his focus on Croatia on Sunday rather than feeling the weight of expectation being No 1 for a tournament.
“With Marg and the keepers this week we’ll rack up 500 to 700 saves in training and that’s just with the keeper coach,” he says. “So, we’re training just to make that one save so we’re prepared for anything come game day.”
Pickford says he has matured from the goalkeeper who went to the World Cup three years ago, having made a late run as No 1 heading into the tournament.
He looks different. Lockdown closed the barber shops and Everton team-mates encouraged Pickford to grow his hair, so he will be slicked back at Wembley with a hint of Seaman minus the moustache.
- England’s Euro 2021 fixtures, kick-off times and latest team news
That fine line between glory and failure was experienced by goalkeepers after Seaman. Just in tournament openers, David James conceded a penalty in 2004, while Robert Green fumbled over the line six years later.
Croatia at Wembley will bring back memories of Scott Carson – and Steve McClaren with a brolly – and failing to get to the European Championship.
Pickford expects his experience to help him deal with the pressurised situation. “Three years ago we were still a little bit inexperienced,” he says. “That was the first major tournament for a lot of players and we’ve got that tournament experience now.
“Every time you step on the pitch you’ve got to mature and you keep learning. So, for me, three years more down the line, I have probably another 100 or more games under my belt in the Premier League and with England as well. I feel much more mature now.”
- Flip-charts, Lewis Hamilton and no ‘slow deaths’ – how Gareth Southgate rebuilt after 2018
Pickford’s temperament was questioned when he ended Virgil van Dijk’s season with a wild lunge at the start of the campaign but his absence in the Everton team was short term. In the second half of the season he had to deal with a rib injury that sidelined him, although he never felt his Euros were in jeopardy.
“It was one of those irritating injuries where it just takes a little bit of time,” he says. “Working with a psychologist has put me in a very good place and anything I can do to get better I’ll be doing. If it’s in the gym, if it’s a psychologist, if it’s nutrition, anything I can do to be the best Jordan Pickford then I’ll be doing it.
“I think you’ve got to invest in your own body to get to those next levels.”
Pickford appeared to have a fight for his place with England earlier in the season when Nick Pope was reaching top form for Burnley. Pope struggled with his kicking in the March internationals, with Pickford returning and showing how important his distribution will be to starting attacks during the tournament.
“You don’t want to be having an easy ride because I just feel like if it’s an easy ride then you get complacent sometimes,” he says. “Whereas you’ve got Popey. Unfortunately he’s injured for this camp but he’s been brilliant. Deano [Dean Henderson] has come in the last few camps and Sam [Johnstone] made his debut and his performance against Romania was brilliant. So having that competition strives us all to be better as goalkeepers.”
Pickford’s tournament could also be defined by scoring penalties as well as saving them, should England get to the knockout stages and be pushed all the way. Against Switzerland, he was the shoot-out hero and he is ready to take another spot-kick.
“If called upon,” he said. “I’ll have to put the practise on the training pitch. We’ll cover all corners to be at our best but, for me, it’s about making sure I’m saving them first.”