London (AFP) – Jordan Pickford says he would happily swap personal accolades for a Euro 2020 winners’ medal as the in-form England goalkeeper prepares to make history in Saturday’s quarter-final against Ukraine.
Pickford has been one of the unexpected heroes of Gareth Southgate’s team during their march to the last eight.
After a turbulent season with Everton, during which the 27-year-old was dropped during a run of costly mistakes, Pickford has found redemption in the European Championship.
His superb display in Tuesday’s 2-0 win against Germany in the last 16 featured two crucial saves before England took the lead.
Pickford has kept four consecutive clean sheets and can surpass Gordon Banks and become the first England ‘keeper to have five successive shut-outs at the start of a major tournament if he does not concede against Ukraine.
But while the praise is nice after a difficult domestic campaign, Pickford would much rather be able to hold a winners’ medal in his hands after the final on July 11.
“There would be nothing better for me than to win a medal with England,” he said when asked if silverware trumped individual success.
“The personal stuff, that takes care of itself. But to win a major trophy with England would be the pinnacle.”
Pickford’s renaissance has come after he was axed by then Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti, who brought in Robin Olsen to push his first-choice keeper.
One especially bad error saw a shot from Leicester’s Youri Tielemans squirm through Pickford’s grasp in January.
It was the kind of blunder that had come to epitomise Pickford’s decline since he earned cult-hero status with the penalty save that helped England win a shoot-out against Colombia in the 2018 World Cup.
– ‘Prove them wrong’ –
Yet Pickford never lost his confidence and gradually recovered his form and focus after an unwanted spell on the sidelines.
“The personality was always there. It was just about me applying myself every day, which I always do,” he said. “Robin came into the club at Everton last season to push me on.
“It’s always better when there is competition. You want to prove them wrong and get better and better.
“Last season was great. Carlo took me out for a couple of games to give me a rest and to get recharged. I had a couple of niggles and injuries. That gave me an added break even though I didn’t want it.
“I came back and I was flying. I felt in a good place and just carried that into the England set-up.”
Aside from his key saves, the motif of Pickford’s tournament so far has been his demonstrative discussions with England players during matches.
He has been seen loudly berating defenders when they do not meet his expectations, while one debate with John Stones threatened to boil over in England’s group-stage win against Croatia.
Pickford is adamant there is no damage done to his relationship with his team-mates once the final whistle blows.
“When I’ve got the ball it is definitely my decision to make. As long as I’m making the right decision, we can argue after,” he said.
“I can see the full pitch. I just want to give that added information.
“The crowd is ridiculously loud and it’s hard to get my voice over to them. So I have got to scream a bit louder. We are all striving for one thing.
“I don’t think it’s as heated as you all think. It’s just that my expressions are a bit over the top at times.”