Playmaker Pickford recognises the limits of his footballing ability

Daniel Taylor
The Guardian
Jordan Pickford believes his primary job is stopping shots and says ‘you don’t want to get too comfortable and start trying to be a No 10’.
Jordan Pickford believes his primary job is stopping shots and says ‘you don’t want to get too comfortable and start trying to be a No 10’.

It was Ruud Gullit who gave us the line about “a goalkeeper is a goalkeeper because he can’t play football” and, though that can probably be held against him now, it is also fair to say not many people would have argued when he said it, in 1997, as the player-manager of Chelsea.

That can feel like a long time ago, given the shift in culture that is perhaps best epitomised by the chain of events, starting with Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City, that has led to Joe Hart’s demotion and can explain why England have a first-choice goalkeeper who is adept with both his feet and his hands.

Jordan Pickford may be a trailblazer in that respect when it comes to the modern-day English goalkeepers and that makes Everton’s No 1 a knowledgeable person with whom to discuss the growing belief, particularly among the leading Premier League managers, that a successful team should have 11, not 10, outfield players – one of whom is allowed to use his hands.

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It is not something that will necessarily appeal to everyone and Pickford, by his own admission, used to have it drummed into him by one of his previous managers at Sunderland not to be too clever. “Big Sam [Allardyce] would always say: ‘If it’s on to play, play. If it’s not, don’t take the mick, play up the pitch and get the ball in their half.’ That’s been Big Sam’s way for a while.”

Equally, the same could also be said of Gareth Southgate and England. “It’s the same as the gaffer here,” Pickford, preparing for the game against Spain at Wembley on Saturday, confirms. “You can play out when there are options and the way the gaffer sets us up, with three at the back, there’s always that option. But the gaffer never hides away from getting the ball up because you see H [Harry Kane] and the aerial threat he’s got.

“The gaffer is open to going long – and it’s not a kick up the pitch any more, it’s a ‘long pass’. Look at Ederson getting the assist a few weeks ago [for one of Sergio Agüero’s goals for City against Huddersfield]. It’s about game management and what works at the right time.

“You might have had a spell of five minutes where you’ve been under a lot of pressure and you need to calm the game down. The last thing you want to do, if a team’s pressing, is to play out, they win the ball and their crowd’s going up. It’s about getting the right balance.”

Suffice to say, Liverpool’s new goalkeeper, Alisson, was reminded of that when he over-elaborated on the ball, lost possession and gave away a goal in their win at Leicester last weekend.

Petr Cech, less of a natural with the ball at his feet, has not found it easy to adapt now Unai Emery wants to modernise the style of play at Arsenal. Yet Pickford has sympathy for one of the profession’s older members. “He’s been the top keeper in the Premier League for the last 10 to 12 years, so you can’t give him too much criticism. I’m certainly not giving him any because I think he’s a great goalkeeper and someone I look up to.”

As for Alisson’s error, Pickford thinks it is probably inevitable that something like that would happen with the influx of more ball-playing goalkeepers, from David de Gea at Manchester United to Kepa Arrizabalaga at Chelsea, plus the Brazilians Alisson and Ederson, and others copying the same style. “I try not to [do tricks] because I don’t want to be caught with the ball,” Pickford says. “It’s a risk. If it comes off, it looks good and if it doesn’t … [shakes his head].

“It’s a style of play and I think that’s the way Liverpool want to play. But it’s going to happen. Look at Ederson at Man City. Guardiola puts a lot of faith in him but mistakes happen all over the pitch. It’s just that the goalkeeper’s mistake is always a crucial one. I’m going to try not to put myself in that position to make those mistakes. You don’t want to get too comfortable and start trying to be a No 10.”

All the same, one of the reasons why Southgate elected him as England’s new goalkeeper came in the 1-0 win against the Netherlands in March, when Pickford’s play from the back started the move leading to Jesse Lingard’s winning goal.

“Ever since I’ve been in the England set-up it’s been that way,” says Pickford, who is in line to win his 11th cap. “You have to be good using your feet. It’s something I’m good at and something I will keep practising. The new manager at Everton, [Marco] Silva, is big on it as well. It’s all about decision-making, doing it at the right times, and I never put myself in too much risk.”

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