Joe Hart was rumoured to be joining Sunderland on loan last summer. Even at the time it was hard to take the gossip seriously and, unsurprisingly, the move failed to materialise.
Curiously though there is still a degree of confusion around whether Manchester City’s legend decided against making the journey to the North East – which seems the most likely – or that David Moyes was of the belief he already had sufficient quality to be able to pass on Hart’s services. Naturally, the latter view is one Moyes has spun to the press. Good luck or judgment? Well, you will have to make up your own mind.
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Whatever you believe, despite the Black Cats’ inability to secure a goalkeeper of Hart’s quality and experience, the biggest surprise has been the fact it was not a hindrance. Instead, it allowed an opportunity for Jordan Pickford to emerge and showcase his talents on the biggest stage.
Be it through Moyes’ ability to recognise Pickford’s undoubted skill or simply a fluke by handing him the jersey, the Scot has overseen the meteoric rise of the local born stopper. To date, it remains the only high point of Sunderland’s miserable season.
Going into the current campaign Italian Vito Mannone was the recognised number one on Wearside. However, having sustained an injury which kept him out for several months, Moyes was left in a quandary – was Pickford capable of making the step up to the big time? Should someone more battle hardened be brought in to see the club through Mannone’s injury woes? It certainly seemed sensible to do so whilst there was still time to make amends in the summer transfer window. However, when funds were in short supply it was a matter worthy of great deliberation.
At the time, supporters were divided on the matter too. Australian Mark Schwarzer was available on a free transfer and having recently won the Premier League with Chelsea and Leicester City, he seemed the obvious choice. Although Pickford had enjoyed successful loan spells in the Championship he had yet to prove himself at the highest level. For a team in Sunderland’s position it seemed a huge risk to simply throw the youngster into the fray. Thankfully, the risk paid off and in a big way. Although, admittedly perhaps not for the club’s survival chances.
After another defeat over the weekend, this time to Manchester United, the Black Cats continue to find themselves marooned at the bottom of the Premier League. The bell tolls for Sunderland and some might say it is not before time. The club have flirted with relegation on too many occasions to continue avoiding it.
However, in times such as these it is only right for supporters to look for the dimmest glimmer of positivity. The fact that Pickford has secured a starting place in the side and as reward for his efforts also earned a call up to the senior England squad has to be recognised as a significant achievement. Unfortunately for Sunderland, relegation will remove some of the gloss from the young player’s success.
All eyes will be on Pickford during the summer and whether he stays with the Black Cats following the inevitable drop to the Championship or whether, as expected he is sold to a Premier League outfit. It seems somewhat likely given the quotes made to the BBC over the weekend.
Pickford made it clear that whilst he was keen to remain with Sunderland in the Premier League his ambitions were such that should the club drop out of the league he may not stick around. Sure, it was not as explicit as that, yet we all know this is the likely scenario.
Ellis Short will also have his say in Pickford’s future too. Should a sizable offer be made for his services it is hard to imagine a scenario where that offer is declined. Short will be keen to recoup as much money as possible before he sells the club to the highest bidder.
In short, Sunderland supporters should make the most of seeing one of their own between the sticks as there are now only a handful of games left to do so.