Jordan Pickford insists his steely focus on “keeping his standards high at Everton” was key to achieving international recognition.
After signing from Sunderland last summer in a British-record transfer for a goalkeeper, Pickford went on to enjoy an outstanding debut season for the Blues.
He played every minute of every Premier League game in 2017/18 – one of only 10 top-flight players to do so – and made the fourth-highest number of saves (121).
The 24-year-old’s standout campaign was underlined at the Club’s End of Season awards, when he picked up the Player, Young Player and Players’ Player of the Season prizes.
Moreover, Pickford’s superb form saw him win a first England cap in November – where his capacity to perform on the biggest stage was emphasised as he kept a clean sheet against world champions Germany at Wembley. He followed this up another accomplished display for his country in March, as the Three Lions secured an impressive 1-0 victory against the Netherlands in Amsterdam, playing a key part in the move which led to Jesse Lingard’s winner.
Having been been named as one of three keepers in Gareth Southgate’s squad for this summer’s World Cup in Russia – alongside Stoke City stopper Jack Butland and Burnley’s Nick Pope – Pickford is targeting a starting place for England’s opening game against Tunisia on 18 June.
For Pickford, the fact he is in contention for the number one shirt is testament to his determination to maintain a consistent level of excellence for Everton. He insists this focus has never wavered, even when the England boss has been keeping a watchful eye from the stands.
“If I play well for Everton, then England will come,” he told evertonfc.com. “Always, if you keep your standards high then the rest will come with it, so I have to do well for Everton.
“Sometimes I don’t know if he [Southgate] is there until after the game. I don’t think about it. He knows what I am capable of doing and I know what I am capable of. As long as I keep doing the basics well and keep being consistent, that’s all I can do.
“It’s just been about doing what I do well, well.”
Pickford will be hoping to get the nod as England face Nigeria in their first warm-up game at Wembley on Saturday. Costa Rica are next up at Elland Road five days later, before the squad travel to Russia for group fixtures against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium.
If Pickford makes any appearance at the tournament, the 24-year-old will become the youngest goalkeeper to represent England at a World Cup finals - beating the record held by Ron Springett and Paul Robinson, who were 26 when they played in the 1962 and 2006 competitions respectively.
It is a fact not lost on the talented glovesman, who says representing his country at the summer showpiece would be “a dream come true”.
“To be the youngest goalkeeper at a World Cup, if that happens, that’s an achievement,” Pickford said.
“I feel I have worked hard and performed to my best this season and that should put me in good stead to be number one.
“I’ve made two appearances now for England, been in against two top opponents, and kept two clean sheets. As long as I keep working hard, keep training hard, then hopefully I’ll get the shout.”
Pickford’s range of qualities have been showcased in abundance in his time at Everton.
As well his ability to produce world-class saves, Pickford’s pinpoint distribution and command of his penalty area have also impressed. Indeed, his authority, confidence and bravery as the last line of the Blues defence have perhaps been the standout features of his debut campaign for the Club – and key factors in his rapid emergence as a fans’ favourite at Goodison Park.
Pickford says these qualities have been developed through sheer hard work – and honed during a succession of loan spells at lower league clubs. As a promising youngster at Sunderland, Pickford enjoyed battle-hardening stints at Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End, before establishing himself as the Black Cats’ number one.
“I’ve always classed it as crossing bridges,” says Pickford. “Every step has been about moving on to the next, eventually becoming a Premier League goalkeeper, and now England goalkeeper.
“I take each stage as it comes but I have always taken opportunities. I had six loans and every loan I had to prove I was good enough.
“But I never thought, ‘imagine going to the World Cup in 2018’. It was always just about taking the next step to being the best I can be.”