Pickford v Ramsdale: The battle to be England’s number one?

Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on telegram
December 7, 2021
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    Scroll to Top

    Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and Everton keeper Jordan PickfordAaron Ramsdale and Jordan Pickford face each other in the Premier League on Monday

    When England boss Gareth Southgate was asked about Jordan Pickford's form 14 months ago, his praise for the Everton goalkeeper revealed a potentially bigger problem.

    In October 2020, Pickford had been through the mill. He had been vilified by fans for injuring Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, and after several errors at club level was then dropped by Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti for the first time after 120 starts.

    Southgate saw an opportunity to back his number one by focussing on his England performances before adding "there is nobody who is challenging seriously to push him out of that position".

    Whatever Southgate's intention, it did not sound like he was describing a healthy situation. Now, thanks to the form of Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale, who will face Pickford in the opposite goal on Monday, the England picture looks rather different.

    During the past year, former Sheffield United goalkeeper Ramsdale, 23, has come through his own test of character to overtake other contenders and emerge as one of Pickford's closest rivals for the England jersey.

    West Brom's Sam Johnstone is still in the picture, but with Burnley's Nick Pope dropping down the pecking order and Dean Henderson struggling for games and fitness at Manchester United, Ramsdale's emergence as the new kid on the block is welcome news for Southgate heading into next winter's World Cup.

    Aaron RamsdaleRamsdale's save against Leicester alerted a wider audience to his talent

    'Ramsdale's journey has not been easy'

    "The best save I've seen for years" is how former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel described Ramsdale's brilliant effort to stop a free-kick by Leicester's James Maddison earlier in the season.

    The save had Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta purring about his goalkeeper's England chances and Ramsdale has since made his senior national debut against San Marino. Only Chelsea's Edouard Mendy has a higher save percentage among Premier League keepers this season.

    Ramsdale's ascent has come following a £24m summer move to the Gunners, a transfer which caused surprise to some fans as the keeper had suffered successive Premier League relegations with Bournemouth and Sheffield United.

    But the fact he has excelled at Emirates Stadium is testament to the strength of his character, says Nick Cox, who is head of Manchester United's academy and signed a 15-year-old Ramsdale for Sheffield United after he was released by Bolton.

    "We didn't think we'd signed a future England goalkeeper," Cox tells BBC Sport. "We didn't know too much about him, but we needed a keeper and he came on trial before we offered him a two-year scholarship.

    "In the first year, he found it tough. We actually thought it might be too tough for him, so we got him to coach the younger academy groups on Tuesday nights. The thinking was 'if this doesn't work out for him as a scholar, we need to prepare a future for him' so we got him coaching. He may not even know that was the reason, but he was a brilliant coach.

    "By the end of the first year, he started to excel because he was coming back after training and working on his own with the goalkeeper coach.

    "Pathways to the top are rarely a straight line and his career was one of overcoming setbacks."

    After moving to Bournemouth, he went on loan to Chesterfield and scored an own goal on his debut before the team were relegated.

    "So he has three relegations on his CV and he had to deal with an £18m price tag at Sheffield United where some fans were negative towards him," Cox adds.

    "But right from the start when he was released by Bolton, he's found a way to improve, deal with setbacks and prove people wrong. He's in love with football, is bubbly and enthusiastic, but he has a steely resilience."

    That resilience was tested while on England youth duty, Cox saying Ramsdale felt intimidated about hanging out with players from bigger clubs and being unable to afford a coffee at the airport.

    Jason Tindall, who is now Eddie Howe's assistant at Newcastle, helped sign Ramsdale while the pair were at Bournemouth and told BBC Sport about the key part he played in keeping AFC Wimbledon in League One while on loan in the latter half of the 2018-19 season.

    "He's an outstanding character and rises to the big occasion," Tindall said. "He deserves where he's got to now, because the journey has not been easy."

    Former Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder, who signed Ramsdale for the Blades, says his "attitude and the confidence he has in his ability mean he will be looking to push Jordan Pickford" for the England goalkeeper's jersey. Wilder says the battle is "wide open".

    The good news for Arsenal and England, but maybe not Pickford, is that he is young for a goalkeeper, meaning the best could be yet to come.

    Jordan PickfordPickford's almost faultless displays during Euro 2020 silenced critics

    Pickford benefits from 'calmer approach'

    Pickford will not give up the shirt without a fight.

    Over the past year there has been a real improvement in the former Sunderland goalkeeper's game, thanks largely to additional guidance from three-time Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti. Pickford also started to use a psychologist midway through 2020.

    The 27-year-old was known as a bit of a crazy kid when he was growing up, and fun to be around. But there have been times on the pitch in the past few years where his lack of composure has led to mistakes.

    Ancelotti was keen for his keeper to stay calm and rely on his"instincts rather than think too much in matches. Pickford has also said he takes inspiration on that front from golfers and Spanish tennis legend Rafael Nadal.

    "You have to work off your instinct but it is about having a calm demeanour in that moment to make the right decision," Pickford told Everton's website in January. "There are techniques to help you be calmer and that is something I have been working on.

    "I am a little bit calmer in decision-making, I think. It's about training your brain and being able to get better."

    The four mistakes he made which led to shots or goals in 31 Premier League appearances last season all came in the first half of the season. Since then, he has been largely error free.

    It certainly does not look like Pickford will be replaced in the England goal soon, and he has the additional advantage of having played for his country in major tournaments and at a major final.

    It's a pressure he says he is used to and relishes.

    "I don't want to feel comfortable," he says. "I want to be pushed."

    Thankfully for England fans, it looks like Southgate has two keepers determined to push each other to be number one.


    Manchester United hit by Covid cases

    Manchester United won away at Norwich on Saturday Manchester United have recorded a number of positive Covid tests among players and staff following their 1-0 …

    ‘Gerrard uninterested in sentimental return’

    Steven Gerrard was warmly applauded by Liverpool fans when he entered the stadium Steven Gerrard strolled down the tunnel with barely a backwards glance or …

    Can Scotland curlers grab GB Olympic spot?

    Scotland's women's rink must emerge from a qualifying tournament to reach the Olympics, having won the European title at the end of last month. Eve …

    Notify of
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    December 7, 2021
      Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
      Scroll to Top
      • Bookmakers Bonus

      Registration bonus up to 250 Euro!

      Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
      This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.