Jordan Pickford bashing must stop - Alan Shearer and pundits have got it so wrong about Everton hero

Jordan Pickford reacts during the penalty shoot-out in the European Championship quarter-final between England and Switzerland in Dusseldorf on July 6, 2024
-Credit: (Image: Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

Get the rave on, Jordan Pickford is the hero again.

But all joking apart, has there ever been a player of whom there was a bigger discrepancy between their popular perception and the reality of their performances than Everton’s England number one?

In this volatile era of ‘fake news’, in which the lines between reality and rhetoric are blurred with social media encouraging like-minded individuals to push their personal agendas in echo chambers where the sound of their own opinions reverberates, rather than examining the facts around a situation, lots of people who might not watch Pickford play as often as either this correspondent or many readers of this article who have got to see him perform heroics for the Blues for several years, continue to try and peddle their skewed narrative.

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Penalty shoot-outs have often been England’s Achilles heel over the years – Everton’s too, as despite winning the first-ever in European competition against Borussia Monchengladbach, they’ve only triumphed in six out of 18 – but Pickford has regularly excelled in such scenarios. He saved the decisive kick from the prolific Carlos Bacca in the 2018 World Cup victory over Colombia; twice against Italy in the last European Championship final from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho only for the Three Lions’ three misses to bring defeat, and now from Switzerland’s Manuel Akanji.

Those four shoot-out saves are twice as many as all the other England goalkeepers combined between 1990 and 2012. He also has more major tournament clean sheets than any other England goalkeeper.

Unlike the regular trolling that Pickford continues to face from his haters, comments that both Everton legend Neville Southall and the late Kevin Campbell described as being “a witch hunt”, these as a certain Rafael Benitez might say, are “facts.” Even throughout this tournament, viewers watching England’s games on television have had to put up with a continued torrent of Pickford bashing from the pundits on their screens.

ITV’s Lee Dixon has told us how having Pickford scream at him during matches wouldn’t have helped his game and he’d often forget that David Seaman was there when the goalkeeper was playing behind him – perhaps because he was focusing on getting in line with the rest of the Arsenal back four and readying himself to raise their arms en masse for another offside appeal? During the quarter-final against the Swiss, the BBC’s Alan Shearer kept winging about Pickford going long with his kicking but other than the former striker being a Newcastle man and therefore seemingly required by Geordie etiquette to parochially cast him as a pantomime villain, this seems a very odd aspect of the Everton player’s game to point the finger at in such a personal manner.

Unlike observations of whether Pickford should have got close to a certain shot or not – by the way he made a smart stop to deny substitute Zeki Amdouni in the latter stages just to take the game to penalties – surely a big factor in whether a keeper is going long or short with his distribution, particularly from goal kicks, is coming from his manager’s instructions? But once again, the 30-year-old who has won all 66 caps as an Everton player, smashing Phil Jagielka’s previous club record of 40 Three Lions appearances while with the Blues, has never let his country down on the big stage.

Indeed, in a tournament in which we thought England would have an embarrassment of attacking riches but might be let down by defensive frailties, it’s instead been Pickford again who has proven to be Mr Dependable, producing the kind of numbers that remained beyond the grasp of his predecessors, including Dixon’s aforementioned former team-mate Seaman, dubbed ‘Safe Hands.’ Just because he’s a passionate leader at the back, demanding the best from those in front of him does not mean Pickford’s shouting is merely an angry rant.

Some would try and paint him as a loose cannon but the English goalkeeper with the most clean sheets in the Premier League last season (13, with the six from Crystal Palace’s Sam Johnstone the next highest), Pickford actually puts plenty of thought into what he is doing as his meticulous planning for the shoot-out with his water bottle crib sheet showed. Even then, some strange, misguided individuals strained to try and portray this as a kind of cheating.

Despite having limped their way through by failing to beat their last four opponents Denmark, Slovenia, Slovakia and Switzerland over 90 minutes, England, who were dumped out in the group stage with a hat-trick of defeats the last time the European Championship was in Germany in 1988, now find themselves just a game away from what would be their first major tournament final on foreign soil. Standing in their way is a Netherlands side coached by a certain Ronald Koeman, who was the manager who brought Pickford to Everton from Sunderland in 2017, although the pair only worked together for three months before the Dutchman was sacked.

Although Pickford has only ever turned out for Gareth Southgate at international level, he’s had seven Blues bosses in as many years – nine if you include caretakers David Unsworth and Duncan Ferguson – but he continues to love life at Goodison Park, ensuring Evertonians will continue to stick up for the man they see as “Our Jordan” and double down against the abuse from outsiders that inexplicably comes his way. With the big changes in Parliament following the General Election back home, we’ve heard much about “change” over the past week.

Curiously, it was Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who represented the Merseyside constituency of Huyton during his two spells in 10 Downing Street who quipped: “Have you noticed how we only win the World Cup under a Labour Government?” Whether that political quirk is ultimately replicated or not at the Euros, we also need to see a big change in how the rest of the football world views Everton’s Jordan Pickford.