Jordan Pickford private stance on summer transfer as unseen Everton influence becomes clear

In the final minutes of stoppage time Jordan Pickford flung himself across his goal and pushed wide Luke Berry’s glancing header.

It was not his best save of recent weeks, nor his most important. In fact, with Everton safe, it barely mattered. Yet that he was alert enough and determined enough to make it told one of the most significant stories of his club’s recent struggles.

No player has done more to keep Everton in the Premier League across three consecutive relegation battles. That England’s number one has peaked at a time when Everton have slumped belies a crucial factor in his success - that he is happy on Merseyside and loyal to the club that gave him a chance.

JOE THOMAS VERDICT: Everton transfer priority clear despite Jamie Carragher's Ross Barkley suggestion

POST-MATCH INTERVIEWS: 'No-one cared about Everton' - Sean Dyche gives blunt verdict on Premier League relegation battle

Elijah Adebayo’s goal at Luton was the first Pickford had conceded in more than 300 minutes. The three games before saw him keep three clean sheets in the week that saved Everton. Among those wins were crucial saves - to Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz and Mo Salah in what became a landmark Merseyside derby win, to Ivan Toney as Everton defeated Brentford to secure survival and, of most significance, the superb stop to Chris Wood that kept Nottingham Forest out just before half-time in the game that kickstarted this run of form. The save from Wood was almost as good, and perhaps just as vital, as the season-defining stops he made with relegation staring Everton in the face as, last year, James Maddison started his run up from 12 yards at Leicester City or when Cesar Azpilicueta forced him into one of the saves of the Premier League era at home to Chelsea the season before.

One of the most notable elements of Pickford’s success in L4 has been his stubborn brilliance against his fiercest critics. A player still confused by too many beyond the Everton bubble as erratic often saves his best for Liverpool and Newcastle United. Indeed, it was at St James’ Park that his man of the match display burst the inflatable dinosaur suits that he laughs off as irrelevant and provided the foundation for the late comeback that reinvigorated Everton’s season and started such an impressive April.

Pickford’s influence extends far beyond what supporters see on the pitch. In the dressing room he is a key figure and was promoted to captain for the first time in his career by Frank Lampard - wearing the armband for the first time, coincidentally, against Sean Dyche at Burnley. That was a source of real pride for the 30-year-old, who told the ECHO weeks later: “It was a nice moment. I always say you need more than one captain in the team; Seamus [Coleman] is the club captain but you need leaders to help Seamus, you need leaders to help the team. If you had 11 leaders on the pitch, it would be amazing but you’ve got to lead in your own way. I feel like I try to be a leader in my way. Sometimes it looks like I’m shouting ridiculously but it’s that talking and information and trying to lead in that manner. The more leaders you have in the team, the better."

Dyche’s appointment around nine months later came at a time of real turbulence yet Pickford chose to sign a new deal within weeks of his arrival. It was a move inspired by his love of Everton but it boosted Dyche’s authority at a time when sources of positivity were rare and welcome. Lesser personalities may have looked to escape a club caught in a cycle of turmoil. Pickford instead committed for the long haul and set his sights on becoming a club great.

“It’s massive to sign this new contract at such a special club for me”, he said in February of last year. “The fans, the staff and my teammates have been great with me from the moment I joined and I want to be great for them. I just want to keep working hard and performing for Everton. We know we are in a tough place at the moment in the league but I’m eager to help the team improve this season and then aim for success in the future, which will include playing in our new stadium. This contract will take me to more than 10 years at Everton and I want to build a legacy here to put myself up there with the likes of Neville Southall to be one of the best keepers to have played for Everton.”

The narrative outside of the club is fickle. On the one hand, his role as England’s number one is constantly challenged despite his form for club and country. Every opportunity to question him is taken and every exaggerated gesture is mistaken for an unnecessary eccentricity. There are difficult moments, and there have been this season. But Pickford has matured greatly in recent years and genuine mistakes are few and far between - and even rarer for England. And then when a transfer window is about to open the script often flips and the question is asked about whether a team enduring Everton’s struggles is the right place for England’s first choice. It happened again this week, with Chelsea rumoured to be interested in his services ahead of a summer in which Everton face more financial uncertainty. Issues with profit and sustainability rules and the instability surrounding the club’s protracted ownership problems may dictate player sales - including in the early weeks of the window.

Those links to Stamford Bridge came as a surprise to those close to Pickford, though, who the ECHO understands remains settled in the north west and happy on Merseyside. Loyalty is important to a goalkeeper who has a box at Goodison Park and who is grateful to the club that paid big money to give him a chance to establish himself in football’s top league as a 22-year-old who had just been relegated to the Championship with Sunderland, a club he loves dearly but whose trajectory meant the sale helped them. Pickford is well aware that, whatever others may say about Everton, it is in his own words a “massive” club and that it has been big enough for him to become England’s goalkeeper - every one of his more than 50 caps has been earned since he joined the Blues.

He is also grateful to a fanbase that has his back and knows his value - he walked out of the tunnel against Brentford to a new Park End banner featuring his image alongside club captain Seamus Coleman. This summer will be another turbulent one for Everton and it would be foolish to rule anything out. But for Pickford any departure would have to be set against the wider context, for instance if there was a view that it would help the club that he is proud to represent. Indeed, it was in similar circumstances that he left Sunderland for Everton in 2017, with club chiefs later conceding the £30m fee was needed to keep the club going in the aftermath of relegation from the top flight.

Back when Pickford signed his latest deal, he spoke of writing his name into club legend. The stop from Maddison, who had the chance to put eventually-relegated Leicester City 3-1 up at the King Power late last season until his effort was saved and Everton scrambled to a draw, was one of the most important in the club’s history. Since then, even though it has been in battles at the wrong end of the table, his heroics have only enhanced his legacy at Everton. And for all the talk of interest from elsewhere, there are unlikely to be any complaints if his focus remains on a summer with England and then a season looking forward to taking Everton into their new stadium.