Currently out on loan to Championship side, Preston North End, Jordan Pickford had been gaining admirers from the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, and is now in the England U21 squad. With his stock rising steadily, can Sunderland keep him from the clutches of the so called ‘big boys’? Can he become Sunderland’s England number one?
Jordan, who was born in Sunderland, joined their academy in 2010 as a 16-year-old, initially on a two-year scholarship. After impressing during his initial year, he was included in the first team squad for a pre-season trip to Germany before making the number one spot at under 18 level on his own.
To aid his development, Jordan was sent out on loan several times up to the end of last season. He has found himself at Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United and Bradford City.
During his season loan spell at Bradford he said, “This is my fifth loan so I’m getting used to it now. Having those others behind me helped make me feel a lot more comfortable when I came straight in here. Hopefully I’ve got a good future ahead with Sunderland. They’ve got two really good keepers at the moment so I have to bide my time. This is the best thing for me to be playing as many games as I can.” (via Telegraph & Argus).
In between these spells, he also worked his way through the youth ranks on Wearside before becoming a regular (when not out on loan) for the club’s U-21 side. Pickford was also a regular feature for England and, up until the end of last season, represented them at U16 – U20 level.
In July of this year, Pickford began his sixth spell out on loan, this time with Preston North End until the end of the current campaign. Sunderland thought long and hard about sending the talented keeper out once more, but eventually decided that first team football in the Championship would be more beneficial to him than sitting on the substitutes bench.
Regarding moving to Preston, Pickford said, “It’s a great chance for me to play in the Championship. I’ve played in the Conference, League Two and League One and this is the next step up for me.” Preston manager Simon Grayson added “As soon as we got wind that Jordan was available we decided to sign him. We knew we needed to make the decision very quickly because he’s a good, young, up-and-coming goalkeeper who has some good experience, he did very well at Bradford City last year and we feel he is going to fit well into the squad and have a really good season with us.” (Quotes via BBC Sport and Sky Sports).
Jordan started life in the Championship better than anyone thought, keeping three clean sheets in as many of his first cluster of fixtures. He also retained a clean sheet in the Capital One Cup victory against Premier League side, Watford. To date, he has kept six clean sheets in 15 appearances; not too bad for keeper playing for a side at the wrong end of the table.
Although his progression was already being monitored due to his involvement with England sides in the past, it was his form at Preston that caught the eye of England U21 boss, Gareth Southgate. In August, he was called up for the England U21s for the first time, making his debut on 3rd September against USA. “It was a great honour and a privilege to make my debut, I’m really proud of it and to do it in Preston and to get a good reception was really pleasing too.” (via Sunderland Echo).
Jordan has now three caps for the U21 side and looks to be making the position his own. In his last game against Kazakhstan, he even contributed to a goal, claiming the assist for England’s second in the net. Boss, Southgate, commented, “It was a wonderful pass, it showed a great understanding of the game and great technique.”
Can he be a future England No. One at senior level? Yes, he can if he continues on the same career path. Will he become Sunderland’s number one in the near future? This one is a little uncertain; clubs are sitting up and taking notice and it could be difficult for Sunderland to keep hold of the talented keeper. Sunderland would do well to resist any offers from other clubs and do their best to persuade Pickford that he has a future with the side, if he continues to develop the way he is. Furthermore, if he does keep developing, then this young keeper could not only be Sunderland’s and England’s future number one, but their first choice for many years to follow.