The widespread debate about the number 1 spot for England at the World Cup in Russia has been ongoing for…well, since just after the Euros in 2016. After Joe Hart’s fatal errors in that infamous match against Iceland, the main topic of conversation of all England fans alike has been about the goalkeeping position and who should fill it.
Manager Gareth Southgate’s decision to drop 75-cap Hart from the World Cup squad was greeted with mixed reviews. Some still saw value in Hart’s experience and leadership qualities (albeit maybe not first choice) and some wanted him replaced by a younger goalkeeper. Hart was still called up for the England friendlies in March but did not play after a torrid season with West Ham. After being in-and-out of the side and making some costly mistakes for his club, it appears that the 31-year-old’s international career may be coming to an end.
As a result, this piece highlights the pros-and-cons of the three selected World Cup goalkeepers in Gareth Southgate’s squad.
Senior International Caps: 3
- Pickford has been given the number 1 jersey for this summer after an impressive ascent to the senior national stage, with Gareth Southgate indicating shortly after Saturday’s 2-1 friendly victory over Nigeria that Pickford would likely start the opening game against Tunisia on 18th June.
- He has also dealt well with playing for two Premier League teams that have often given him very little protection.
- Not only a good shot-stopper, Pickford’s excellent distribution skills add another dimension to his game and could be a huge asset as England try and play out from the back.
- He has won the 2016 Toulon Tournament so has experience of winning an international competition.
- Pickford’s experience is limited to only 3 senior caps. However, he has represented England at every youth level from Under-16’s to Under-21’s.
- So far, Pickford has only played in friendlies where the pressure is much less than in a world tournament.
- He has played for club teams that concede a lot of goals and chances, so it is unknown how his concentration levels would be affected while playing for England who may only concede two or three chances in a game.
Club: Stoke City
Senior International Caps: 7
- Butland’s career path has been steadily building towards him becoming England’s number 1 for the last five years.
- He has represented England at the 2012 Olympics and was part of England’s Euro 2012 squad (although he did not end up making an appearance) so he has experience of going to a senior international tournament.
- Butland is capable of spectacular saves and recently captained Stoke City in the last few weeks of the season.
- He has won the 2010 UEFA European Under-17 Championship so also has experience of winning an international competition at a young age.
- Relegation with Stoke City last season could be still be on Butland’s mind because he may be distracted by thoughts of a transfer, and playing behind a leaky back line could have dented his confidence in the build-up to the World Cup.
- Again, experience is another question mark as although Butland has more caps than Pickford, his total only comes to four more than the Everton goalkeeper.
- Butland’s consistency is also an issue with some weeks being exceptional and other weeks being disappointing for his club, in addition to his footwork not quite being as good as Pickford’s.
Senior International Caps: 0
- Pope has had a remarkable breakthrough season in the Premier League, keeping 11 clean sheets to help Burnley finish 7th and in a Europa League place.
- He has had a meteoric rise to the top after being on loan at various non-league clubs as recently as five years ago.
- Only Manchester United’s David De Gea outperformed Pope statistically last season in the Premier League.
- Pope won Burnley’s Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year awards after coming into the side in early September and featuring in every game until the end of the season.
- Pope is the least experienced goalkeeper at international level after receiving his first call-up to the squad in March for two friendlies.
- The majority of Pope’s career appearances have come in League 2 or below, highlighting his need of more quality experience in the PL.
- In the 2016/17 season, Pope was third choice for Burnley behind Tom Heaton and Paul Robinson, so this World Cup’s number 1 place may come too soon for him.
Overall, it goes without saying that with 10 senior international caps between Pickford, Butland and Pope, England have extremely limited tournament experience in the goalkeeping department. Any discussion among fans about who should be given the nod between the sticks will always have the ‘experience’ argument as their go-to point for whoever their preferred choice is. Even Tom Heaton on the standby list only has 3 caps. In addition to the goalies, England’s squad is the least experienced going into the competition. Nevertheless, Gareth Southgate will most likely go with Pickford as his number 1 on 18th June because of his ability to play out from the back. However, in reality, the shirt is up for grabs for any of the names mentioned.
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