Everton goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly says Jordan Pickford’s relentless work ethic and "burning desire" to improve makes him a joy to work with.
Kelly revealed Pickford’s efforts in using video footage to analyse his game during the coronavirus lockdown, while praising the 26-year-old’s commitment to sustaining his fitness levels after the Premier League was suspended.
The Blues stopper has recorded two consecutive clean sheets since the resumption of top-flight football, Everton following up a goalless draw against Liverpool at Goodison Park with a 1-0 victory at Norwich City on Wednesday.
Pickford has played every minute of every Everton Premier League match since joining the Toffees from boyhood club Sunderland in 2017 – a run that stretches to 107 successive matches.
He has also established himself as England’s number one during his time at Goodison Park and played a starring role as the Three Lions reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup.
Former Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Kelly believes Pickford’s resolve to continue developing his game has underpinned his success.
“He shows a real burning desire to improve on a daily basis,” Kelly told evertonfc.com.
“Every week, during lockdown, he embraced the sessions we set up for him.
“Not only that, but he was recording sessions and sending those back to us for review.
“You don’t do that if you’re not invested in yourself and not wanting to use that time to improve.
“His work ethic is fantastic.
“Any sessions you put on or require of him, he gets on with it with full gusto.
“As a coach it’s a pleasure to be able to work with someone who has that desire to work hard, improve and do what he can to help the team. That’s all you can ask for.”
Competitive football was suspended in England for more than three months in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Kelly explained how Pickford – as well as Everton’s other stoppers, Maarten Stekelenburg, Joao Virginia and young talents Harry Tyrer and Nico Hansen – used video analysis during the break to further entrench the goalkeeping requirements in Carlo Ancelotti’s playing style.
“During the lockdown we had video calls and went over the manager’s playing philosophy and how it impacts the goalkeeper in game situations,’ says Kelly.
“From my own stats, a goalkeeper could have up to 50 distribution actions within the game, through goal kicks, back passes and restarts.
“That adds up to a lot of possession for the goalkeeper. As a keeper, it’s about using the ball within the manager’s philosophy and the tactics on the day against that particular team.
“During the calls, we went over clips and I asked for their opinions, too. As a coach, you’ve got to listen as well and I found that fantastic as an exercise.
“I got their in-depth opinions on certain situations, in terms of receiving a back pass or taking a goal kick – what was the thought process when they had the ball at their feet?
“It was a real two-way process and I think everyone now fully understands what it required of them and when.”
Kelly outlined how his goalkeepers’ application while training at home ensured they were razor sharp and in prime physical condition upon their return to USM Finch Farm.
“I sent them their own bespoke training sessions, to fit whatever area they had at home – whether that be a garden or indoor area,” explains Kelly, who won 34 senior international caps and racked up more than 450 club appearances during a 16-year professional career.
“There was a multitude of different exercises, in terms of getting hold of a ball, catching a ball, dealing with a football coming at you.
“We got everybody involved, the wives, the partners and parents! All sorts were involved in terms of getting delivery of that ball.
“What we tried to do was incorporate goalkeeping fitness into the programmes they had.
“It’s interesting, you can do rides on the exercise bikes and do all the running work you want to do, but for a goalkeeper you have to throw your body on the floor and get back up again.
“It’s a different type of fitness.
“They kept their levels up superbly well.”
It was announced last week that Dutchman Stekelenburg will be leaving Everton at the end of the season after four years at Goodison Park to rejoin Eredivisie giants Ajax.
The 37-year-old, who has won 58 senior international caps and was an ever-present in Netherlands team that reached the 2010 World Cup final, joined the Toffees from Fulham in 2016.
Kelly says Stekelenburg’s enduring quality and first-class professionalism provides a sterling example to the talented young stoppers coming through the ranks at Everton.
“I say to our young keepers, look at this man,” Kelly said.
“Look at the career that he’s had, the way he handles himself and learn from him.
“He’s played in the World Cup final and he’s someone’s whose work ethic is still fantastic.
“He’s always first on the training pitch and last out. If someone wants to go out and practise a few extra shots he’ll always put his hand up to do that.
“To have the chance to watch someone of that quality for those young goalkeepers provides a fantastic learning experience.”