Jordan Pickford interview: 'I've been using a psychologist all season - I feel calmer now'

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Jordan Pickford interview: 'I've been using a psychologist all season - I feel calmer now' - EDDIE KEOGH
Jordan Pickford interview: 'I've been using a psychologist all season - I feel calmer now' - EDDIE KEOGH

There is an image that tends to come to mind with Jordan Pickford: bellowing instructions to his back line, a whir of arms, a blur of hyperactive energy.

It might, however, be time to update that version. Welcome to Pickford 2.0 - a man who, in the words of his England manager, is a "calmer" goalkeeper these days. Does he agree with that interpretation?

He nods. “I just feel in a very good place.”

Pickford's second coming could not be better timed as the Euros looms ever larger. The 27 year-old is speaking to Telegraph Sport during a break in England's preparations - they face Romania in their final warm-up game on Sunday - and cuts a relaxed figure, something he partly credits to the use of a sports psychologist.

“I began working with one at the start of the season. You know in football, as with any sport, those little one or two per cent gains - just to raise your ability on the pitch and what you can achieve - are crucial. Investing in your body is crucial. Whether it’s nutrition, psychology, extra gym sessions. I think it helps. So why not use it?”

Given the intensity of high-level sport, and going into a tournament such as the Euros on the back of a demanding Premier League season, it is maybe surprising to hear Pickford’s biggest takeaway from working with the psychologist.
“Just enjoy playing football,” he says. “I have to think how lucky I am; of all the work my family put in – from me being six, seven years old with my parents taking me to football all the time. The amount they have invested in me. It’s about how can I keep that level of performance and look back to where I have come from. It’s crucial and I feel that I have kicked on this year. I feel calmer, I feel in the moment and I feel great.”

Still, it was not so easy earlier in the campaign when he was left out by Carlo Ancelotti, the now departed Everton manager, for a Premier League fixture in November. It followed a difficult few weeks where Pickford had been guilty of some damaging mistakes, and seemed to be in danger of losing his place in the longer term. It did not help the Sunderland-supporting goalkeeper that the opponents were Newcastle United.

“The manager left me out for a couple of games to give me a mental break,” he explains. “I didn’t enjoy it but I had to respect his decision and if you look at his history it has worked - he has done it at every club he’s been at.

“I didn't feel I had been dropped - not at all. The first one was against Newcastle and with me being a north-east lad and a Sunderland fan I think that was a big headline. But he [Ancelotti] explained it to me straight away and was very honest in what he said. He also came out and explained that I was being rested and was going to be back for the next game, which was brilliant.”

Ancelotti kept his promise and Pickford was brought back for the following match, against Manchester United, and although it petered out into a disappointing season for Everton he went from strength to strength and ended it as one of their best and most consistent performers.

Jordan Pickford and Carlo Ancelotti shake hands - BRADLEY ORMESHER
Jordan Pickford and Carlo Ancelotti shake hands - BRADLEY ORMESHER

No wonder, then, that Pickford is a more relaxed figure these days. Off the field, he became a father two years ago to a son, Arlo; on it, he has embraced a more serene approach, together with some deep thinking about the goalkeeper's art and how it has changed in an era when more is expected from Premier League goalkeepers.

“With the speed of the modern game, the ‘perfect save’ is more difficult to make," he says. “With playing it out with your feet you work a lot more, you get a lot more ‘actions’ now, but when we talk about the perfect save my old goalkeeping coach used to say, 'The main thing is keep the ball out of the net. It doesn’t matter how it stays out, whether it hits your head or anything, talk about that after'.

“You have a lot more actions – crosses, with your feet – but the average number of saves in a Premier League game has stayed roughly around four. So you have to be in that moment for that time as well and make sure your concentration level is at that peak.”

Pickford has had other issues to confront this season. He twice suffered a tear to an oblique abdominal muscle which ruled him out of three England World Cup qualifiers in March. Nick Pope – who was already being touted as a possible first-choice for the Euros – played all three games but was unconvincing, and has now suffered the misfortune of a knee injury which has ruled him out for the summer.

It means that Gareth Southgate's three goalkeepers have just 32 caps between them – with Pickford accounting for 31 of them. It would seem a cause for concern but Pickford, typically, is nonchalant.

“We are all Premier League goalkeepers and that’s great experience in itself,” he says. “Come the Euros the pressure won’t be there for me, personally. It will be about the ‘GK union’, as I call it, and pushing hard to perform well on match-day.”

There is a palpable sense of excitement around the England squad with memories of their run to the semi-finals of the last World Cup and a determination to make the most of ‘home advantage’, with six of their seven potential ties, should they go all the way, being played at Wembley.

“It makes it into something of a home tournament and we will thrive on that even more,” Pickford says. “We have had a feel of fans being back. The last home game at Everton there were six or 7,000 and it felt like it was sold out.

“That atmosphere at Wembley... the last time we played against Croatia (England’s first opponents) was when we qualified for the Nations League Finals and it was electric. We know how passionate the fans are and especially coming into a tournament. Also, we will be based in England and based at Wembley so that should give us an advantage as well as we have those home comforts.”

But does that not add to the pressure? “No, we thrive off it,” Pickford says. “We want to perform; we know the pressure is there. But it’s about being up for it, being ready for that moment – Croatia first, take care of business, and go again against Scotland, then the Czech Republic. That’s how we will approach it and how we approached it in 2018.”

Ah, the Russia World Cup. Pickford will always be associated with that tournament and the victory against Colombia in the last 16 when, finally, England won a penalty shootout and he made a vital save from Carlos Bacca. It was a fine stop, too - Pickford leaping (legally) off his line to narrow the angle before flinging out a left arm, high above his head, to deflect away a well-hit shot.

It set the stage for Eric Dier to be the other hero by slotting in the winning kick, and Pickford still smiles at the memory.

“That experience definitely helps,” he says. “It was a very hostile game, there were a lot of Colombians there, it was like a home game for them and you could feel the vibe turning. They had equalised in the 93rd minute but we showed character. Before extra-time, we were able to reset as a group and ask, ‘How do you go again? How do you get over the line?’ That’s tournament football and we proved it that night. You look back and think now, 'we can do this. We can win those kinds of games'.”

Jordan Pickford makes an outstanding save against Colombia - REUTERS
Jordan Pickford makes an outstanding save against Colombia - REUTERS

It also takes a lot of hard work, with Pickford confirming that the England players practised their spot-kicks so often that they did indeed wear out the penalty spot at their training ground in Russia. “I think before the Champions League final the other night Ederson took 11 penalties just in case it went to a shootout. You have to give yourself the best opportunity if it comes down to those moments."

But winning the Euros may be even more challenging than the World Cup. England's path through the tournament is daunting, with the 'reward' for winning their qualifying group likely to be a meeting with one of France, Germany or Portugal.

You sense, however, that negativity is not permitted among this group of players.

“There’s that good old saying: if you want to be the best you have to beat the best,” Pickford says. “Against every team you have to have the mentality you are going to win and we want to go all the way.

“The depth and the ability and the talent we have in the squad is unbelievable. It’s about being solid at the back in competitions and if we can do that we can let the talent up top go and show what they can do. Everyone knows what we have.”

Jordan Pickford is an ambassador for Bud Light, the Officially Official Beer of the Men's England Team. He is currently working with them to promote their new ‘Boxheads’ campaign. Find out more via @budlightUK. Boxheads are available in stores and online now nationwide. Visit Amazon to buy your Boxhead today.

Jordan Pickford
Jordan Pickford