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Pickford Earns Long-Awaited Respect as Penalty Hero

The goalkeeper has transformed England's dismal penalty shootout record by addressing and rectifying the mistakes in his game.
Anna Ciao
By: Anna Ciao

"After yet another grind, another game fought tooth and nail, but that's the essence of it," Jordan Pickford reflected after England's penalty shootout victory over Switzerland in the Euro 2024 quarter-final. England's historical fixation with trench warfare has often seemed outdated and cringeworthy, yet if there's one player in the current squad who might thrive in such a scenario, it would be Pickford.

The Everton goalkeeper isn't one to hold back his emotions on the field; instead, he lets them burst forth. This characteristic has defined his career, occasionally prompting calls to temper his approach and focus more on the game at hand. Realistically, that was never likely to happen.

Now, England can be thankful that Pickford has stayed true to his natural demeanor, continuing to wear his heart on his sleeve—the very sleeve that thwarted Manuel Akanji's penalty and set the stage for Trent Alexander-Arnold and company to secure England's spot in the semi-finals against the Netherlands.

Often a target for criticism, Pickford is finally earning the recognition he deserves as one of England's most dependable performers over the past decade.

Bouncing back

Since his debut in a friendly against Germany in 2017, Jordan Pickford has been England's undisputed No. 1 goalkeeper, fending off stiff competition from the likes of Nick Pope, Jack Butland, Dean Henderson, Sam Johnstone, and Aaron Ramsdale.

Among them, Pope and Ramsdale posed the strongest challenge, particularly during a period when Pickford's form for Everton faltered in 2020. The impact of playing without crowds due to the pandemic may have affected his mindset during those seasons.

A pivotal moment occurred when Pickford collided with Virgil van Dijk during the Merseyside derby, sidelining the Dutchman for the season in October. Former coach Carlo Ancelotti had previously cautioned him about his form in July, leading to Pickford being dropped for a match against Newcastle in November. However, his absence from the starting lineup was short-lived, as he swiftly returned to face Manchester United the following week.

Reflecting on being benched, Pickford admitted it was a new experience for him but used it as a catalyst for personal growth. He began working with a psychologist and focused on becoming "the best Jordan Pickford" he could be—a decision that has clearly paid off.

Saving Everton from the brink

Since Carlo Ancelotti's departure from Everton in the summer of 2021, the club has faced ongoing instability, but Jordan Pickford has remained a steadfast presence in goal. His performances were pivotal in helping Everton avoid relegation in subsequent seasons, highlighted by two remarkable saves in a crucial 1-0 victory over Chelsea.

During that match, then-manager Frank Lampard hailed Pickford's reaction save against Cesar Azpilicueta as the best in the Premier League era. Equally impressive was Pickford's courageous header to deny Antonio Rudiger's close-range effort moments later.

In the 2022-23 season, Pickford continued to play a crucial role in Everton's fight to avoid relegation, notably saving James Maddison's penalty in a critical 2-2 draw against Leicester City late in the campaign.

Despite Everton being docked eight points for breaching financial rules, Pickford's goalkeeping ensured the club's survival without the pressure of a relegation battle by season's end. He secured 13 clean sheets, second only to Arsenal's David Raya, despite Everton finishing 15th in the league standings.

Reversing history

Pickford's role with England has rarely been questioned, with Gareth Southgate reaping the rewards of his steadfast support since 2020. Even after the incident involving Van Dijk, Southgate stood by Pickford and offered him reassurance, citing his excellent performances as deserving of loyalty.

"At the time, when people say I've been loyal to Jordan, he has deserved that," Southgate stated. "Jordan's performances have been excellent for us. We have competition for places, but I don't see anyone seriously challenging him to displace him from his position."

Nearly four years later, Pickford's record remains impressive. Despite a rare error against Belgium in March, he has only conceded 17 goals in 66 appearances for England. His save rate of 86 percent in the two Euros he has participated in ranks him second-highest among goalkeepers with 10 or more games, trailing only Spain's Iker Casillas.

Pickford's prowess in penalty shootouts has been particularly notable. He ended England's 22-year penalty shootout drought against Colombia in the 2018 World Cup by saving Carlos Bacca's penalty, following Mateus Uribe's miss. In the 2019 Nations League third-place playoff against Switzerland, Pickford saved Josip Drmic's sudden-death penalty and also successfully converted his own spot-kick moments earlier. Although England lost the Euro 2020 final shootout to Italy, Pickford made crucial saves against Andrea Belotti and Jorginho. His recent save against Akanji marked his sixth penalty stop in four shootouts.

Unmissable antics

Pickford's meticulous preparation, including his famous water bottle research on Switzerland's penalty takers, has gained widespread attention, distinguishing him from his predecessors. While it's now commonplace for teams to study opposition penalty habits, Pickford's unique on-field presence has been equally crucial. In the shootout against Colombia, he would touch the crossbar before each penalty taker approached. Against Italy, he displayed a different approach, dancing along the goal line.

In the recent shootout against Switzerland, although referee Daniele Orsato restricted his movement, Pickford compensated by intensely staring down the Manchester City defender Akanji. He touched the crossbar six times before diving to his left for Akanji's penalty.

Pickford has emerged as the star of England's shootout performances, even in defeats, and his confidence visibly energizes the team. Reflecting on his approach, he commented, "I trust my process, my mentality. I know I'm going to save at least one for the lads."

Beyond his goalkeeping prowess, Pickford's interactions with England fans behind the goal, before and after matches, have added to his charismatic persona. His on-field antics, including getting caught in the net after Xherdan Shaqiri's near-miss, followed by a thumbs-up gesture to the Swiss playmaker, have made him an internet sensation. His expressive face and vocal leadership, often seen yelling at defenders after making a save, have endeared him to online audiences, who humorously suggest he speaks for the nation in his passionate reactions to doing his job.

Different breed

Jordan Pickford's on-field demeanor, which has become a hallmark of his style, has not always been universally praised. Former Ireland striker Tony Cascarino, for instance, likened him to a UFC fighter in a 2019 column, criticizing his intensity and occasional hot-headedness.

Carlo Ancelotti, Pickford's coach at Everton, acknowledged his emotional nature but emphasized the importance of channeling it effectively on the pitch. Ancelotti believed in preserving Pickford's natural character while encouraging him to make subtle adjustments to enhance his game. "This is his character and it is difficult to change the character of people. On the pitch he has to be focused on what he is doing, knowing his limit and also knowing where his quality lies," Ancelotti explained.

In contrast, Micah Richards defended Pickford in 2022, asserting that such passion and intensity are integral to his success. Richards highlighted that goalkeepers, by nature, often possess unique and animated personalities, likening Pickford's approach to that of legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. "I do like his character, I really do. It’s passion. Sometimes it can be taken overboard but, at the end of the day, every time you work with a 'keeper, they are wild anyway," Richards remarked, emphasizing the distinct nature of goalkeepers in the game.

On Martinez's path

Jordan Pickford's fiery demeanor on the pitch contrasts sharply with Emiliano Martinez's provocative gestures, yet both goalkeepers have made significant impacts for their respective national teams. Martinez's performance during Argentina's World Cup victory was marked by pivotal saves, including a crucial stop against Randal Kolo Muani in the final moments of extra time against France. His heroics continued in shootouts, where he defied Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni to secure wins. Martinez's success extends to the Copa America, where he saved two penalties against Ecuador, helping Argentina advance.

Martinez's influence has been transformative for Argentina, particularly in overcoming their historical shootout struggles in major tournaments. His partnership with Lionel Messi has been instrumental in elevating Argentina from perennial contenders to champions.

Similarly, Pickford's role for England holds parallels. Known for his passionate and intense style, Pickford has been pivotal in crucial moments, such as saving penalties in high-stakes shootouts. His ability to maintain focus while unleashing his competitive spirit is seen as key to England's continued success. As England faces more challenges ahead, Pickford's approach could prove crucial in ensuring victory in future battles.

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Anna Ciao
Written by: Anna Ciao
Anna Ciao is a sports content contributor at Betimate. Born and raised in a rural village in China, I have had a passion for football and various sports such as basketball, volleyball, badminton, from a young age. Along with diligent studies, I achieved an IELTS score of 8.0 in the English language, and I have become a content contributor specializing in sports, particularly football, as I am today. I hope that my articles are helpful to readers.

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