By Dave Downie
Jordan Pickford is set to become Everton’s first major signing this summer and will bring an end to a distinct lack of goalkeeping competence which has blighted the club for years.
It’s a position that often goes unnoticed because sometimes they barely feature. But when a game is decided by a calamitous error or a physics-defying moment of brilliance, the narrative switches to one of overreaction and hyperbole. Then almost as quickly its forgotten and we revert to focussing on the rest of the team, not stopping to consider the consequences of not addressing the issue until the next time.
However, it’s inevitable that we end up talking about goalkeepers again. For Everton, in recent years how many times have we been able to speak positively about a keeper’s efforts? Even if you choose to argue the point and say it’s a regular occurrence, subtract that number from how many times you’ve found yourself berating a goalkeeping performance. Should you find yourself reflecting on more positives than negatives, then you really do need to have a rethink.
If and when you’ve done that, you can then conclude that goalkeepers have cost Everton more points than they’ve saved in recent seasons – that’s how important they are and that’s how poor they’ve been.
In contrast to the lack of importance placed on having a quality keeper at the club, look at the hysteria surrounding Romelu Lukaku and the amount of money he might well leave for and how difficult he is to replace. That’s on the back of 25 goals in a season. Surely then, a top goalkeeper that manages to keep out a similar number of goals should be spoken of in the same way, with similar acclaim? By signing Jordan Pickford, Everton will finally have a goalkeeper that’s capable of doing that.
It’s been a far cry since the halcyon days of Neville Southall’s impenetrable presence was charged with shutting out the opposition. With the exception of Nigel Martyn, Everton have yet to field a goalkeeper that would be worthy of taping up big Nev’s fingers since the finest stopper in the club’s history played his last game.
But perhaps the more pertinent issue has been the lack of desire to actually address the position properly. David Moyes decided Tim Howard was good enough to lead Everton’s charge between the sticks towards the Champions League throughout the bulk of his tenure. But like many players alongside him, his limitations meant progression from being the best of the rest to joining the elite was curtailed.
Even if Moyes wanted to replace Howard, it was never a position he would’ve prioritised particularly given the financial constraints he had to juggle in his time at Goodison – maybe he should have. His back-up options, with no disrespect, didn’t exactly inspire confidence either; Stefan Wessels, Jan Mucha and Carlo Nash wouldn’t know a clean sheet if it was on their washing line. The role of Everton goalkeeper is one that has been neglected without very little thought due to what others have considered more pressing matters.
Roberto Martinez kept faith with Howard but did what Moyes opted not to do and brought in an understudy who you might be convinced had played in goal at some point in their lives. Joel Robles was and never really has been a long-term solution, though, and his shortcomings became obvious during the second half of the season just gone. Although I do have sympathy for the Spaniard, as he’s seldom been given the full confidence of his manager to prove himself with firstly Martinez and more recently Koeman’s preference for others – the less said about Maarten Stekelenburg, the better.
Why the position has never been a priority until now is a question for those respective managers – each of which would have their reasons. But it’s incredibly refreshing that Ronald Koeman and Steve Walsh have opted to put a young, exciting and more importantly, capable goalkeeper at the top of their recruitment strategy this summer.
Jordan Pickford is a raw talent, but his shot-stopping abilities and distribution are exceptional for a 23-year old. Indeed, it’s testament to him that he’s one of perhaps only two players that can hold their heads up high following a disastrous campaign at Sunderland.
The fee of around £30 million (around £18 million up-front) has been scoffed at by many, but considering Pickford’s age and ability, he should be considered a fantastic investment given that he could well be Everton’s number one for at least the next decade.
Whatever your impression of Pickford is, he is a signing of huge significance as it indicates Everton are finally addressing a key position in the squad that is just as important as any other and has gone underestimated and unappreciated for far too long.