Preston goalkeeper Jordan Pickford on his England dreams
IN-FORM Preston stopper Jordan Pickford has his sights set on following in the footsteps of England keeper Joe Hart, but for now has his feet firmly on the ground and fears Euro 2016 might come too soon for him to make his big breakthrough.
Hart learned his trade at Shrewsbury Town and refined those skills at Birmingham City, before finally being unleashed at Manchester City.
Pickford, on loan from Sunderland, is doing similar... and North End and England Under-21s are reaping the rewards.
You need two hands to count the number of clean-sheets he has kept in the opening three months of the season, and consequently Manchester United are said to have him on their radar. And before Roy Hodgson names his squad for friendlies against Spain and France later this month, he could do worse than take a trip to Deepdale.
Fellow Championship keepers Rob Green and Tom Heaton have had senior call-ups alongside Hart and Jack Butland lately, with Ben Foster and Fraser Forster both out injured.
Yet Pickford has poured cold water on suggestions he is set to enter the elite international fray, and for now is keen to focus on maximising the chance being afforded to him by Preston.
“Jack Butland is a good keeper and only young, and Joe Hart is my role model,” said Pickford.
“I look at his career path and I want the same. He played lower league football and worked his way up and I think that is the way to do it.
“I’ve got my place in the Under-21 team and I need to keep my head down and work hard to keep the shirt. If I keep doing well it would be a dream to play for the senior team, but I think that’s a way off yet. For now it is about what I can do day-to-day.
“Every game I’m playing is part of the learning curve. I had a good start and have been doing well again recently.
“Hopefully I can keep more clean-sheets, because I feel that I am getting better with every game. It’s definitely a case of learning on the job.”
Pickford’s best laid plans could well go awry, however, through no fault of his own.
Parent club Sunderland have had their customary chaotic start to the season and Sam Allardyce has replaced Dick Advocaat in the Stadium of Light dugout. Another relegation scrap looks set to ensue and if the Black Cats drop down a tier then Allardyce may see his squad decimated.
But Washington-born Pickford believes his hometown club will do enough to survive.
“It’s been a hard start to the season; it’s the toughest league in the world, because every game is competitive,” he added.
“It is hard to see them down there because I’m a fan – I have been since I was a boy – but hopefully beating Newcastle last weekend is the start of things turning around.
“I don’t think about what might happen to me if Sunderland got relegated, it has not even crossed my mind.
“This year is about me getting better and better and hopefully the chance to play for Sunderland will come for me further down the line.
“Sam Allardyce has bigger things to worry about at the moment than me.
“But some of the staff have been over to watch me this season and I am only 15 minutes away from their training ground, so it’s not been difficult to keep in touch.”
SOLID STOPPER: Jordan Pickford has made a big impression on loan at Preston North End THREE LIONS: Pickford wants to follow in the footsteps of Joe Hart and Jack Butland with an England call-up
ENGLAND’S N0.1?: Jordan Pickford knows he has to learn his trade, but has been tipped to reach the very top