Everton Ambassador and FA Cup winner Graham Stuart insists “sensational” Jordan Pickford’s England exploits will help elevate his club’s standing in world football.
Goalkeeper Pickford was the Three Lions’ standout performer in Saturday’s quarter-final victory over Sweden. The 24-year-old, his country’s youngest number one at a World Cup finals, produced a trio of first-class stops after the break in Samara.
Athletic saves from Marcus Berg on 47 and 71 minutes sandwiched a splendid reaction effort to keep out Viktor Claesson’s firm, low strike, as Gareth Southgate's team progressed to the last four courtesy of goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli either side of half-time.
Pickford’s flawless performance against the Swedes came four days after he repelled Carlos Bacca’s penalty to become one of the heroes of England’s second-round shootout success over Colombia.
The former Sunderland man joined Everton from the north-east club in a British-record deal for a goalkeeper last summer and has won all eight of his England caps since making the switch to Goodison Park.
“Jordan’s performances do make a difference for Everton,” Stuart told evertonfc.com. “This is the the biggest stage in football and, in my view, we have had the best goalkeeper in the tournament.
“That is great for Everton’s standing and how the Club is perceived in Europe and around the world.
“I think Jordan would say being at Everton has really helped his development. He recognised it was a big move for him to come to the Club, with a big fee on his shoulders as well.
“He has dealt with it so well and I cannot compliment him highly enough. He has been a sensation.
“It is great credit to him and he is a lad who keeps his feet on the ground.
“Everybody at Everton has worked hard for him and he has a fantastic relationship with the players and everybody around the Club.”
Pickford’s clean sheet against Sweden was the third of his nascent Three Lions career. He was one of only 10 Premier League players to be on the pitch for every minute of the 2017/18 campaign and recorded 10 top-flight shutouts for Everton.
Pickford's total of 121 Premier League saves was surpassed by only three of his divisional counterparts and the Wearsider's consistent excellence was rewarded at the Dixies - the Club’s end-of-season awards – when he walked off with a hat-trick of prizes.
And Stuart claims the performances which led to the ‘keeper being named the Blues' player, players’ player and young player of the year, filled him with confidence that Pickford would star for his country this summer.
He is also delighted Pickford has had the opportunity to show off his full repertoire of qualities to a worldwide audience.
"He has not surprised me at all this summer,” said Stuart, who scored 31 goals in 161 games for Everton after joining from Chelsea in summer 1993 – including a double in the 3-2 victory over Wimbledon which saw the Blues escape the drop in his first season at the Club.
“We saw all season at Everton how good Jordan is, he took every accolade possible at the end-of-season awards – and deservedly so.
“We know his distribution is second to none and that was what, probably, initially got him in the England side.
“But that is not to underestimate how good a goalkeeper he is and how well he commands his box and organises his defence in front of him.
“He is a magnificent shot stopper, too, and we saw all of those attributes against Sweden.
“I can only imagine the lads at the back feel really confident with him behind them. Even if they make the odd mistake, when you have a goalkeeper with Jordan’s athleticism, making sensational saves, you just feel unbeatable as a side.”
Stuart watched England seal their first World Cup semi-final berth since 1990 alongside fellow Everton Ambassador and 1987 title winner Ian Snodin.
And he confessed the pair were out of their seats when Pickford sprang to his left to palm away Berg’s close-range header two minutes after the break.
The context of that save from striker Berg added to its majesty, with England seeking to preserve a one-goal lead and Pickford not having been called on to produce a stop in the opening 47 minutes.
“Everybody knew England would have lots of possession of the ball, which meant it was even more important the goalkeeper retained his concentration,” added Stuart.
“The first save he had to make did not come until early in the second half. Our first reaction when we saw it was to say, ‘What a great save’.
“That showed his concentration levels and confidence are high, and they are both huge parts of a goalkeeper’s game.
“He deserves great credit for his ability to stay switched on. And so do his coaching staff and everyone around him who keep him on his toes and his concentration levels high.
“He is only 24 but he has real maturity. He is not a shy lad and has confidence in himself. He likes a joke but when it is time to get your game face on he produces the goods – and he is doing it at the highest level.”