Ronald Koeman says Jordan Pickford has exceeded his expectations and shown why Everton paid “big money” for the former Sunderland goalkeeper.
Pickford has made a tremendous start to his Goodison Park career and crowned his latest exceptional display, at Hajduk Split on Thursday, by saving striker Ahmed Said’s second-half penalty.
Everton surprised a few pundits when they spent an initial £25million to sign the 23-year-old from relegated Sunderland this summer.
The north-east club conceded 69 goals in the Premier League last term, a total it was broadly accepted would have been far greater but for Pickford’s consistently excellent form.
Asked if Pickford had lived up to what he had hoped for when he brought in the Englishman, Koeman said: “More than that. We knew his qualities and he has made important saves in several games.
“He is really strong mentally. From the beginning he was very comfortable and not nervous. He had the confidence to believe he was the number one.
“That was the reason we signed him for big money – we expect he will be the number one in the future for England.
“That is the confidence we have in the boy. And so far he is doing fantastically well.
“Now it is about keeping that level, it is always more difficult maintaining it than reaching it.”
Pickford saved on average 4.61 shots per game playing for Sunderland in 2016/17 – more than any of his top-flight goalkeeping counterparts during the same campaign.
His challenge this season has been to retain concentration during long periods of inactivity in order to be on his toes when called upon.
Everton manager Koeman has been impressed by Pickford’s ability to thrive in those circumstances – to the extent his 352 minutes without conceding a goal from the outset of his Blues career set a Club record for a new goalkeeper – and was delighted to see him included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad this week.
Furthermore, Koeman has noted with some satisfaction his new number one’s willingness to upbraid teammates if they fall below standard – the keeper took exception to Wayne Rooney losing possession in last week’s Europa League home clash with Hajduk Split.
“That was good,” said Koeman. “That is what I like. Sometimes we accept too much from teammates and we need to be critical.
“He has a good personality and that is what we like in that position. It is not about age, it is about communication and quality. And that role is important for him.
“He is a promising goalkeeper and he is showing what we like to see. He is young, has a lot of ambition and has been selected by the national team.
“It is easier to stop one hundred balls than if you get one or two. You need to be focused for that one ball. And in Split the penalty was a really important moment.
“If it had become 2-1, the atmosphere in the stadium would have been really tough for the last 30 minutes. After that it was over.
“That is what you look for as a coach.
“Even when he was relegated with Sunderland he had a good season.
“They conceded a lot of goals but he was the most promising goalkeeper for Everton from our point of view. That was why we paid that money for him, because we think he will be the best in the future.”