From the outside, it would be easy to dismiss Jordan Pickford. When you’re a goalkeeper in a terrible side, no one will blame you for the team’s misfortunes. Furthermore, the terrible defence in front of you will see you face a barrage of shots, which gives you ample opportunities to showcase your shot-stopping abilities. If you make a heroic save, you end up shining on the post match highlights. If you concede, the wider footballing world will first look to blame the ineptitude of the defenders, rather than call you into question. It’s a win-win.
It’s in spite of this that Pickford has made himself a success on Wearside though. Yes, his shot stopping is brilliant but the bravery he’s shown, when it would have been far easier to ignore the spotlight, is the reason why Everton just broke their transfer record to sign him.
Before getting to his greater strengths, we may as well get the obvious out of the way. When it comes to reflexes, there aren’t many who can match the rave lover’s talent. Everyone knows Sunderland didn’t win many games last year and when they did, Jermaine Defoe often scored the goals to claim the three points. What most don’t acknowledge though is that Pickford made match-winning saves, often on multiple occasions, in all of them. Away to Bournemouth, an inaugural victory of the season in early November, the England Under 21 international made an audacious save from Josh King, as the game crept into stoppage time. A few weeks later and he was at it again, this time a point blank stop against Leicester’s Wes Morgan, as The Lads held onto a 2-1 lead in stoppage time. This was during Sunderland’s only decent run of the season, where they put together a string of wins, a run that ended after a 1-0 home win over Watford, where the visitors dominated for the first half but were kept at bay by Pickford. This gave the then-Moyes-led Sunderland a platform to squeeze out a 1-0 victory in the second half.
But there’s far more to Pickford than just parrying away goal-bound efforts. The distribution he showcases is up there with any goalkeeper playing professionally today and that’s no exaggeration. If you don’t believe me, watch the ball he played to Defoe away to Hull, towards the end of last season. He splits Hull’s defence and gives Defoe a perfect one-on-one with the goalkeeper. That wasn’t a fluke either, it was the type of pass he’s been developing since his days in the academy and it blossomed beautifully over the past year. It may sound like I’m being hyperbolic once again, but instances such as this meant Pickford was one of the most creative players in the Sunderland squad. Yes, I appreciate that it may not be that difficult in a poor team, but to see a rookie evidencing such talent and confidence was spell binding.
That confidence translated excellently into other areas as well. Loan spells to Football League clubs Bradford and Preston North End, where Pickford would have battled against typical, lower level, brutish, centre forwards, obviously served him well as he never feared commanding his penalty area. It wasn’t just the way he was so boisterous, although barking orders at much more senior players such as John O’Shea was impressive. No, what got Sunderland fans off their seats, even as the reality of relegation approached, was Jordan Pickford’s excellent decision making. When galloping off his line, Pickford always knew if it was correct to seize the ball or to lessen the threat by punching it clear. Whatever he did, he always tended to make the oft-perilous Sunderland goal feel like a much safer place.
Such maturity shown at such a young age made Pickford’s departure from Wearside inevitable. As relegation became more of a certainty for Sunderland, even the most optimistic of supporters struggled to come up with reasons why he would stay, as this is a player with all the potential and desire to not just become England’s first choice goalkeeper but to ply his trade at one of the top European clubs. A £30 million price tag may seem like a lot but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone spent even more on him, in a few years time.
By: Rory Fallow/@RoryFallow
Photo: Louie Hendy/@LH_BCFC