Jordan Pickford could pounce on rivals' errors to stake England World Cup claim
Everton goalkeeper the least error-prone of Joe Hart, Fraser Forster and Jack Butland and could force his way into Gareth Southgate's plans
With the countdown to the World Cup approaching the six-month mark, those currently out of favour with their clubs and with aspirations of boarding the plane to Russia with their respective countries in June will be wise to field offers when the transfer window opens on Monday.
That could apply to a spate of goalkeepers in England. Successive national team managers have kept faith with Joe Hart despite a decline that is well into its third year. Deemed surplus to requirements as soon as Pep Guardiola stepped foot inside Manchester City, twice Hart has been loaned in the past two seasons, twice he has failed to earn a permanent move. Torino didn't want him. West Ham United, his current club, have dropped him.
Hart's decline should have paved the way for others to step up and stake a claim for the England No 1 jersey. Instead of seizing their moment, heirs to Hart's throne have floundered. Fraser Forster has followed Hart's example by losing his place as Southampton's first choice and Jack Butland is the last line in a Stoke City defence that has been breached 46 times in 21 Premier League games. Tom Heaton is still weeks away from a first-team return at Burnley after suffering a dislocated shoulder in September, but may struggle to regain his place from Nick Pope, who has kept eight clean sheets in his absence and himself has been tipped for a call-up with England.
Other than Liverpool, the big six are well set in the goalkeeping department, and in any case only Butland and Heaton would be seen as an upgrade on Simon Mignolet at Anfield.
One player perfectly poised to pounce on England's goalkeeping crises though is Jordan Pickford. Unlike Butland this term, Pickford showed at Sunderland last season you can still shine even in a terrible team. That form prompted Everton to sign him for an initial £25 million (Dh124m) last summer, though he has yet to really replicate it at Goodison. A combination of Ronald Koeman's confusing tactics and a usually reliable defence forgetting the art of it meant Pickford was exposed too many times early in his Everton career. Those faults have been addressed by Sam Allardyce, a manager married to the idea of keeping clean sheets first and trying to win second. The fact others have made bigger and more high-profile errors means his name rises closer to the top each week.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, stuck by Hart in the qualifying campaign and will most likely do the same in Russia. His 75 caps are 59 more than the combined total of Forster (6), Butland (6), Heaton (3) and Pickford (1). But Hart's experience of major tournaments with England, like many others before him, could be more of a hindrance than an asset next summer.
Pickford, by virtue of being the least error-prone save for Heaton, could see him promoted in Southgate's plans if Hart cannot force his way back past Adrian at West Ham.
- Watch: The five best sports moments of 2017
- Steve Luckings: 2017 has been the year of Kane, but will he still be at Spurs in 2018?
Published: December 31, 2017 05:30 PM