After the week he has had, it is no surprise to learn that Jordan Pickford has always backed himself.
The penalty save near the end of England’s opening match at the Under-21 European Championship to earn a 0-0 draw against Sweden on Friday came 24 hours after he became the third most expensive goalkeeper in history and meant that Everton’s £30m signing has already shown he can handle the big occasion.
“It’s just a number isn’t it?” Pickford responded when asked whether he would be fazed by such a costly transfer fee. “It’s my job to be a goalkeeper and keep the ball out of the net and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve kept a clean sheet. It’s just a number, it doesn’t affect me.”
While that kind of response may be standard fare for the modern footballer, there is no doubt Pickford’s words are sincere. Having spent time on loan at six different clubs since joining Sunderland’s academy at the age of eight, the ease with which he adapted to his promotion to the first team by David Moyes at the start of last season was an indication of the confidence he possesses in abundance.
Even after a season that saw his boyhood club finally succumb to relegation after several close shaves, the 23-year-old has only grown in stature. So when Linus Wahlqvist picked himself up to take the penalty after Ben Chilwell slid in recklessly on his Swedish opponent nine minutes from time, there was at least one person in the Kolporter Stadium who refused to panic.
“It’s pot luck sometimes but yes I was confident,” Pickford said. “I held my ground and didn’t dive until late. It’s a 50-50 chance. You never know. I enjoy the pressure. You don’t know how confident or nervous he’s going to be before he takes it. He might have been nervous or I might have made him change his mind. I’ve made that big save at the big moment. It’s what I keep saying – I make big saves.”
As well as the England manager, Aidy Boothroyd, who will be disappointed with the way his side failed to press home their early advantage against the reigning champions and ended up hanging on for a point, there was another member of the squad with particular reason to feel grateful. Defeat would almost certainly have ended England’s hopes of reaching the semi-finals of this competition for the first time since 2009 and Chilwell was among the first to congratulate his team-mate.
“I just said to him: ‘Cheers mate, you have got me out of the shit there’,” the Leicester defender said. “It would have been down to me had we lost the game.”
As it stands, Slovakia’s surprise win over hosts Poland on Friday means England’s fate is in their own hands. Anything less than victory against the group leaders on Monday would spell disaster but despite a lack of cutting edge in the final third against Sweden, that should not be beyond them. Whether Pickford, who has yet to save any of the four spot-kicks he has faced in the Premier League so far, will be called on to repeat his heroics later in the tournament remains to be seen.
“I’ll be confident going into it but hopefully we don’t have to go to penalties and produce a bit of magic by keeping clean sheets,” he said. “We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves. We need to win two games. We’ve got Slovakia and then the hosts on Thursday in front of a packed house. That’s going to be an interesting game, but that’s what we’re here for.”
Pickford has been so focused on his performances for England he has yet to even speak to the Everton manager, Ronald Koeman, about his plans for the new season.
“My agent did all the stuff. I’m just a lad who likes playing football. I’m not bothered about anything else,” he said. “I didn’t know too much about it until I came out here but got that done so I could focus on trying to win the Euros. I’ve heard he’s a top manager and it will be good to learn under him at Everton. He texted me before the game wishing me good luck. I’m speaking to him tomorrow on the phone to get an early introduction.
“I was a bit too young to see him as a player but I heard he was a free-kick specialist and that he still takes them. It has been a big couple of days but I’ll focus on that when I get back.”
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