In our weekly Scout feature, Daniel Roberts takes a detailed look at a new emerging talent from world football. This latest edition focuses on Sunderland and England Under-21 goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Held in high regard in the North East, the 6ft 1 England U21 international has all the potential to become the country’s future number one.
Born in Washington, Sunderland, the youngster joined the Black Cats’ academy in the summer of 2010. A season later, Pickford joined the side’s first team in their pre-season tour of Germany, however, he had to wait until the following season’s pre-season to make his first team debut, featuring as a substitute in Sunderland’s 3-2 victory over Dutch side FC Groningen in the 2012 Peace Cup, held in South Korea.
Displaying incredible reflexes, shot-stopping and organisation skills, Pickford certainly has the hands to palm his way up the footballing ladder. More impressively, he has a fantastic attacking weapon in his left foot, with his distribution a fantastic feature of his game.
In October, his passing skills went viral after a deftly exquisite dropkick fed Nathan Redmond to score a second in England U21’s European Championship Qualifier against Kazakhstan, which you can view below.
Making his way up the football ladder, Pickford progressed up the leagues with a number of loan moves. After initially joining Darlington in 2012, he had spells at Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United and Bradford City, making just under a hundred appearances combined.
In the summer, Pickford joined Championship club Preston North End on a season-long loan and quickly endeared himself to the Lilywhites’ faithful with a string of impressive performances.
In just his first three games for the side he had broken a club record, becoming the first Preston goalkeeper to keep three cleans sheets in the first three league games of the season since the league started in 1888.
He wasn’t finished there, however, as his run of six shutouts later on in the season, starting in the October fixture against Cardiff, was a club-record equaling feat for consecutive clean sheets. Fast becoming a fan favourite, the goalkeeper now has 12 clean sheets to his name in both league and cup competitions.
Internationally, Pickford has represented his country at every youth level from the Under-16s up to the U21s, making a combined total of 41 appearances. In 2013, he went on to represent England in the UEFA U19s European Championships, making two appearances.
What The Experts Say
Former England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland: “I have worked alongside a number of top-class goalkeepers in my career and I have to say that Jordan Pickford is up there with the best.”
Preston manager Simon Grayson: “We’re very delighted that Sunderland have allowed him to be at our football club. The lad’s got a bright future wherever he’s going to be.”
Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon: “He is the future for England and this club too and I hope that he continues to do well.”
Where Does The Future Lie?
As to be expected, interest is extremely high in Pickford. Scouts from Manchester United and Tottenham have reportedly watched the keeper’s displays in the Championship this season, however, Sunderland are certain not to let one of their most prized assets move on.
The biggest question that surrounds his future currently is what goal he will be occupying come the end of the January transfer window: Deepdale’s or the Stadium of Light’s.
With the Black Cats struggling for form in the Premier League, and increased pressure on current No.1 goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon from the locals, Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce could be tempted to end the loan early and give the academy graduate a chance in the first team. He also may recall the starlet if understudy Vito Mannone completes an expected departure back to Serie A in January.
On the possibility of recalling Pickford, Allardyce said: “Between now and January, there’s a considerable amount of time to consider what we might do.
“I think the bigger problems lie in front of the goalkeeper, not the two goalies we’ve got here in Costel (Pantilimon) and Vito (Mannone).
“But hopefully Jordan will continue to do the job and that young man will be Sunderland’s regular goalkeeper one day. Whether it’s under my time or not, time will tell.”