How Jordan Pickford transformed his game to become England's reliable goalkeeper, according to CRAIG HOPE


He has come to represent chaos and hyperactivity, the rave-loving goalkeeper who makes frogs in a box look sober. 

In reality, Jordan Pickford is England’s greatest exponent of control, even if the sideshow is at times slapstick. It takes a clever man to play the fool.

Do not underestimate the intelligence and thought of a keeper who has saved four shootout penalties at major tournaments from the 14 he has faced. Between 1990 and 2012, his predecessors saved two from 36.

If FA chiefs are lobbied on doing away with extra-time and going straight to a shootout, they should vote yes as long as Pickford in their custodian. In fact, the less England play actual football the better.

Jordan Pickford is England’s penalty expert and gives confidence in a penalty shootout

Pickford made a huge save at the start of the penalty shootout against Switzerland

England reaching the last four of Euro 2024 makes little sense but Pickford has played a huge part

Because even in the 119th minute, when Southgate had made changes in anticipation of penalties, he had forgotten that they still had to get there. 

Switzerland attacked – a recurring theme – and it was Pickford’s strong-arm block from Zeki Amdouni that ensured passage to the one arena in which you have confidence in this group. 

That is because of the surety of the takers, of course, but more so because of Pickford. The stats tell you, he will always save at least one. Score yours, then, and you win.

He plays the pantomime villain, but with Machiavellian intent. The shootout is his stage and he is the director, orchestrating delays to gain advantage. Then there is the water bottle ‘cheat sheet’. 

Yet this is not cheating, it is good preparation. The marginal gains that go a long way. It may have appeared a split-second decision, but he pushed off for his dive to keep out Manuel Akanji’s opening spot-kick 24 hours earlier.

Some keepers look smaller when pitched into a 12-yard duel, but Pickford grows. He is dynamic, imposing, intimidating. Compare that to Peter Shilton versus West Germany in 1990, who dived the right way every time but was soundly beaten. Even David Seamen, again versus the Germans six years later, did not influence the situation in the way Pickford bends his destiny.

Pickford's water bottle 'cheat sheet' is good preparation for the goalkeeper for penalties

Pickford’s water bottle ‘cheat sheet’ is good preparation for the goalkeeper for penalties

They say goalkeepers are mad, but Pickford’s is measured insanity and he is a huge part of England's journey

They say goalkeepers are mad, but Pickford’s is measured insanity and he is a huge part of England’s journey

They say goalkeepers are mad, but Pickford’s is a measured insanity. He has learnt to use his oddity to the betterment of his game. He began working with a psychologist four years ago in a bid to correct a poor run of form at Everton. Now, it is him getting inside the mind of others.

Still, the reputation sticks, the hot-head who is a liability to himself and the team. That is nonsense. Speak to those who know him best, and fans of Everton, and they will tell you he has grown into a mature, calming presence. Former Toffees boss Frank Lampard, in particular, is a big supporter of Pickford 2.0.

He is a dad of two now and, at England’s media base a fortnight ago, I chatted to him over the pool table about family and the future. 

He was less cordial when I then beat him during a three-putt challenge – his rueful bellow shaking the stone walls of Blankenhain Castle – but at least it reinforced a mentality governed by success. He was not happy when losing a game of darts against a colleague, either.

Southgate chose to have Pickford by his side when facing the pre-match media in Dusseldorf on Friday night. 

Only a select senior band join the manager in that domain. But that is Pickford now, a grown-up upon whom England can depend. Of all the concerns around performance, he has not been one. 

Pickford is now a grown-up on whom England can depend in high-pressure situations

Pickford is now a grown-up on whom England can depend in high-pressure situations

Even before his shootout save, there was a case to be made for him being England’s most consistent performer at these Euros.

What is indisputable is that he is this country’s most decorated international goalkeeper since Gordon Banks. Give it another week and he could be move alongside him. 

Maybe it will take two more arduous ties that go the distance, especially as England seem incapable of beating any opponent inside 90 minutes. If so, that will be fine.

Penalties are not a lottery, you see. But if we must abide by that lazy assertion, at least England have a winning ticket in Pickford.



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