David James wants to see more competition for Jordan Pickford as England’s number one and believes it could make the Everton man a better goalkeeper.
Pickford was the only English keeper to play regularly for a team that finished in the top half of the Premier League last season, and one of only four to end the campaign as first choice in the top flight.
James, who won 53 caps for England, told PA: “Having been an England goalkeeper over a period of 13 years, there always seemed to be some sort of competition.
“As a player, when you’re watching the football on a Saturday night or a Sunday and you see an England goalkeeper playing well for another team, you’re thinking, ‘Right, there’s my competition’. It kind of changes the mindset.”
After his stellar World Cup, Pickford had some ups and downs in his performances for the Toffees last season but James was impressed by the way he bounced back.
In the Nations League clash with Switzerland in June, Pickford scored and saved penalties in the shoot-out to secure victory for England.
“I’ve been very impressed with Jordan, and not because he’s England’s number one,” said James, who was speaking from the final of the Bet Regret Cup, part of the UK’s largest safer gambling campaign.
“Even without a lot of competition, he’s proven himself. What he did in the World Cup obviously was fantastic. I think the testament of a good goalkeeper is what you do when you’ve had a sticky period.
“Last season he went through a bit of a sticky period and then went on a run of clean sheets. He’s got all the attributes you need, obviously. It will be interesting to see, given sterner competition, whether he can go even higher.”
Pickford’s biggest challengers over the past couple of years have been Joe Hart, Tom Heaton, Nick Pope and Jack Butland.
Butland has slipped off the radar somewhat with Stoke in the Championship while James hopes Pope and Heaton can step up this season.
Both have missed large chunks of time with serious shoulder injuries as well as battling each other and Hart for the number one jersey at Burnley.
Heaton has now left Turf Moor and should be Aston Villa’s number one while Pope is likely to be preferred to Hart for the Clarets.
“With Nick Pope back and fit, there’s an opportunity,” James said. “With Tom Heaton going to Villa, he’s been in and out as well through injury but a very capable goalkeeper, obviously.
“I want to see English goalkeepers play in the Premier League, I want to see Gareth Southgate given a headache because he has three, four, five goalkeepers playing well regularly in the Premier League.”
Youngsters Angus Gunn of Southampton and Sheffield United’s Dean Henderson, who is on a second season-long loan from Manchester United, will hope to force their way into the reckoning in due course.
:: David James was speaking at the finals of the #BetRegret Cup, part of the nation’s largest safer gambling campaign, Bet Regret. For more info, visit https://www.begambleaware.org/betregret/