Daily Mail

GLOVES ARE OFF

Eng­land No 1’s alarm­ing slump gives ri­vals hope

- by DO­MINIC KING Sports · Soccer · Everton F.C. · Everton · England national football team · England · Spain · Spain national football team · Championship · Gareth Southgate · United States of America · Preston · Iceland · Burnley F.C. · Manchester United F.C. · Manchester · Dean Henderson · Manchester City Football Club · Goodison Park · Crystal Palace F.C. · The Crystal Palace · Carlo Ancelotti · Aston Villa Football Club · Aston, West Midlands · Stirlingville, Michigan

‘So long as I keep per­form­ing week in, week out for Ever­ton, I will have the chance to stay Eng­land No 1.’ JOR­DAN PICK­FORD oc­to­ber 2018

He knew the re­quire­ments. It had been a whirl­wind four months in which he had be­come a na­tional hero after star­ring in a world Cup shootout and signed a bumper new ever­ton con­tract, but Pick­ford had not lost sight of what was ex­pected.

Con­sis­tency was de­manded, im­prove­ment too. Pick­ford was rid­ing high, en­joy­ing the plau­dits that came fol­low­ing a sparkling per­for­mance dur­ing eng­land’s first win in Spain for 31 years, but he was ready to take it up again.

The idea he would not start the euro­pean Cham­pi­onship be­tween the posts for eng­land was un­think­able back then, but here we are.

The dip in Pick­ford’s form means he be­gins the cam­paign with ques­tions to an­swer for club and coun­try. Gareth South­gate handed Pick­ford his first major in­ter­na­tional call-up five years ago this week, se­lect­ing him for the Un­der 21s in a friendly against the United States at Pre­ston. But that an­niver­sary could be marked in Ice­land on Satur­day with him sit­ting on the side­lines.

nick Pope’s pro­gres­sion at Burn­ley has ap­plied pres­sure, while the emer­gence of Manch­ester United’s Dean Hen­der­son has added an­other di­men­sion.

It would have been fas­ci­nat­ing to see the three men work to­gether this week at St Ge­orge’s Park to un­der­stand the dy­namic of the grow­ing ri­valry.

It begs the ques­tion: what has hap­pened? Pick­ford’s strug­gles be­gan with a cheap goal con­ceded against Manch­ester City last Septem­ber, which led to Gary neville acer­bically crit­i­cis­ing him, and it grad­u­ally slith­ered from there. South­gate saw his trou­bles first-hand. eng­land’s head coach made two scout­ing trips to Good­i­son Park at the be­gin­ning of 2020 — once in Fe­bru­ary to see ever­ton face Crys­tal Palace, the second in March for a 1-1 draw with Manch­ester United.

In both fix­tures, Pick­ford con­ceded goals he should not have done. South­gate could not at­tend games post-lock­down, but on TV he would have seen per­for­mances, no­tably in a 3-0 de­feat by wolves, to give him cause for alarm.

Many will recog­nise Pick­ford as player who likes to laugh and joke, but there were times when it seemed as if his en­joy­ment was wan­ing. He said in Fe­bru­ary that it is ‘part of play­ing for eng­land — ev­ery­one hates you’. For some­one who does not take him­self too se­ri­ously, it was a can­did rev­e­la­tion.

To give con­text to how the 26-year- old fin­ished last sea­son, the in­sight from Carlo Ancelotti was stark­est. ever­ton’s man­ager does not throw around glib words to at­tract head­lines and nor does he high­light one of his play­ers without good rea­son.

So when Ancelotti puffed out his cheeks on July 16, ahead of a home game with As­ton Villa, and tried to ar­tic­u­late what was on his mind about Pick­ford — who made fewer saves and more er­rors than Pope and Hen­der­son last sea­son — you knew then that he had not been per­form­ing week in, week out.

‘I don’t know if he needs com­pe­ti­tion,’ said Ancelotti. ‘I know that he is not do­ing well. I spoke with him. He’s not do­ing well.

‘He has to be fo­cused on him­self, on his per­for­mance. Day by day he has to try to be bet­ter. I’m not so wor­ried be­cause he has qual­ity. He has char­ac­ter but I have to say to him — and I have said to him — that he has to im­prove.

‘I don’t know if he does or doesn’t feel pres­sure. Pres­sure is a part of your job. You have to feel pres­sure but pres­sure can be good gaso­line for your job.

‘I and ev­ery­one else at the club have to­tal con­fi­dence in his qual­ity. He knows this as he is crit­i­cal of him­self. For the qual­ity he has — and he agrees — he has to be bet­ter. My style is to have di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the play­ers. If some­thing is wrong I have to say clearly what is wrong.’

South­gate has long been a fan of Pick­ford, aware of his tal­ent many years be­fore he se­lected him for the Un­der 21s, but for the first time his po­si­tion is vul­ner­a­ble.

To change things, Pick­ford knows what he has to do. Fol­low­ing his own ad­vice from two years ago is the place to start.

 ?? REX ?? Feel­ing the strain: Pick­ford knows his place is un­der threat
REX Feel­ing the strain: Pick­ford knows his place is un­der threat
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