The stats might not tell the full story - last season Jordan Pickford made four errors that led to goals, and that number is up to two this season. The England number one hasn’t necessarily always been in control on the pitch, hesitating to come out and claim high balls into the box. Even when he has, his claims and punching haven’t been entirely convincing leading to questions being asked about his performances compared to his breakout season in 2017-18 when he joined Everton.
While the 25-year-old is known for his shot-stopping ability, often he has to make those spectacular saves because he is out of position and is trying to use his reflexes and mobility to make up for that. What will frustrate the Toffees the most about Pickford though is that he doesn’t appear to have made any progress from his Sunderland days, especially with pressure mounting on him from a number of suitors with Euro 2020 in a few months.
Speaking to the media after his error allowed Christian Benteke to pull Crystal Palace level over the weekend, Pickford acknowledged that he had made a mistake there and was actually relieved to have not injured himself as his foot got stuck in the turf.
“I’ve watched the goal. I’m lucky I haven’t done my cruciate, to be honest. My foot planted. It was a foot save and I have led with my hand.
“I couldn’t get my leg out. It was stuck. It happens. But I am mentally strong. I’m disappointed but it doesn’t affect us.
“People probably doubt us week in, week out but I know what I am capable of and I know what I can do. I will keep pushing. I have reached a certain level and I don’t want to stop.”
Everton fans have become used to television pundits continuously belittling the club and the players, but even Pickford has noticed the chatter and is defiant that he won’t let them get to him, even if some of the criticism is coming from famous players like Gary Neville.
“I think the press and everybody; the punters – look at Gary Neville – they just want to come for England players. Everyone gets stick. Some get a lot more praise than others. That’s part of being an England player. You have to live with it, you’ve got to learn.
“Everyone hates you, for some reason. I just get on with it. You have got to live with it, you have got to learn. I know what I am capable of and I know what I am good at. Yeah, it hurts.
“It is what it is. Look at Joe Hart when he was number one. He got pelters every week. You just keep it away from your head as the only person who can sort things out is yourself as an individual, on the pitch and in training.”
He’s not wrong - we’ve gotten used to the ‘short arms’ jokes that get bandied about by rival supporters, and even Evertonians don’t spare their own when he does make mistakes.
Gareth Southgate was in the stands at Goodison over the weekend and with Dean Henderson having a good season for Sheffield United, questions have been raised if Pickford should continue to be the starter. When asked if Henderson had gotten ahead of him in the England pecking order, Pickford answered strongly that his focus is first on club, and will continue to work on his game and go wherever that takes him with the Three Lions.
“Doesn’t really affect me. He’ll do what he’ll do and I’ll do what I’ll do.
“It’s looking after things on the pitch for Everton that is my main aim. That gets you picked for England.
“It’s funny because everyone raves about you when you are with England but then you get back to your club and everyone wants to slate you.
“As a person, I don’t let it affect me. But it does p*** you off.”
Interestingly, one of Pickford’s greatest strengths has been his undoing as well. He tends to be light-hearted and jovial on the pitch, even when things aren’t going well for him on the pitch. When the Blues went behind to Manchester City earlier this season, he was seen laughing on the pitch and many pounced on that. Last season he was guilty of riling up the St James Park crowd after the Blues led 2-0 at the half, but the lifelong Sunderland supporter likely got too casual as the Magpies roared back to win that game 3-2.
When asked though, the goalie insisted that his ability to quickly get over mistakes made him a better player. Indeed, on Saturday soon after conceding the soft goal to Benteke he made an excellent diving saves at point-blank range to keep the striker from getting a second equalizer.
“I think it just shows my mental character. People probably doubt me week in, week out. But I know what I am capable of and I know what I can do. I will keep pushing. I have reached a certain level and I don’t want to stop.”
Questions are being asked again of the shotstopper amongst the Everton fanbase regarding if he is the right man between the sticks for Carlo Ancelotti’s project, and Pickford can see what most fans are realizing too.
“We are not the finished article but we will keep pushing to climb the table.”