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09th Jul 2018

Jordan Pickford’s humble comments on non-league career show how far he’s come

What a journey it's been

Patrick McCarry

It is worth noting that Jordan Pickford had not made a competitive appearance for England until he faced Tunisia in their World Cup opener

Pickford came into the World Cup with a handful of international caps, the backing of Gareth Southgate and a lot of hype about his abilities.

He was not tested too severely by Tunisia or Panama but his concession of a goal to Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj – and some of his parried saves in that match – saw him draw criticism from the likes of Gary Neville and Ian Wright.

Pickford finished the Premier League season with Everton by making two poor mistakes in their loss against West Ham and he was under scrutiny heading into the knock-out stages. His wonder save against Colombia, penalty shoot-out performance against the same side and his string of important stops against Sweden have lumped some credit in the bank.

With that in mind, it seems like weeks rather than days ago that Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was suggesting Pickford was only truly starting to feel the heat as he had spent so much of his formative years in the lower rungs of English football.

Thibaut Courtois

The 24-year-old had six loan spells Рat non-league Darlington and Alfreton Town as well as Burton, Carlisle, Bradford and Preston Рbefore establishing himself at Sunderland and eventually moving to Everton for £30m.

Ahead of Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia, Pickford reasoned that his less than glamorous start to his professional football career had nicely teed him up for the big-time.

“Places like Wrexham and Southport, when there are not that many people there, were tough,” Pickford told ESPN. “You are a young lad, and you’re having abuse hurled at you. That is what teaches you, and that’s what you laugh about now. When you get that stick, that’s when you become better.

“When there are just 500 fans inside a ground, you can hear everything they say, every little word that is getting said, so that is what turns you from a kid into a man.

“Is the World Cup any different? No, not really. You can say that, but when players are also working as electricians and stuff like that, it’s still pressure.”

The England No.1 has obviously not forgotten the lessons he learned away from the spotlight but within ear-shot of doubters and opposition fans.

“I was only young then,” he continued, “so I was learning about game management and all that stuff. That was the difficult task. That is what makes the game easier because you understand it more.

“It is all about learning, and that is what I did in those leagues. Then when you come on to the big stage, you have got to perform, and it is football. And I just enjoy it.”