When Jordan Pickford was starring for England at last summer’s World Cup, there was a certain amount of pride emanating from Preston fans.
Pickford was the hero in the penalty shoot-out win over Colombia last summer, and enjoyed a superb tournament as England reached the semi-finals. Having been in a battle with Jack Butland for the No. 1 jersey before the tournament started, Pickford emerged as England’s undoubted first-choice stopper – and he hasn’t let go of the shirt.
Yet if you had spoken to Preston fans back in 2015, many could have predicted that. Pickford joined North End on loan from Sunderland in the summer of 2015, having previously been with Bradford City.
It’s easy to forget that Pickford’s arrival didn’t actually go down well at first. Fans on Twitter – and I’ll admit I was one of them – were a little disappointed that promotion-winner Sam Johnstone wasn’t returning to the club. Pickford was signed as his replacement, and had big shoes to fill.
It quickly became apparent though that Pickford was a star. His distribution was exceptional, he exuded confidence even as a youngster, and kept Preston in games as a new Championship side.
His save from Sam Vokes at Burnley is still talked about to this day, and whilst his time at Deepdale was short-lived as Sunderland recalled him in January 2016, his performances live long in the memory.
Just 18 months after leaving North End, Pickford was on the move, joining Everton. BBC Sport reported that the deal was worth £25million to £30million, and whilst many questioned that price tag, Preston fans knew it would be money well spent.
Pickford has been superb for Everton and a hero for his country, and whilst there have been mistakes along the way – as there would be for any young goalkeeper – he is one of the top young goalkeepers in Europe.
Now, Sam Allardyce has reflected on Pickford’s time at Preston. A former North Ender himself, Allardyce made the unpopular decision of recalling Pickford from Preston in 2016.
Allardyce has told talkSPORT that he knew Pickford was a huge talent as soon as he saw him play for Preston. That’s exactly why he took Pickford away from Deepdale, despite North End wanting him for the full season.
Allardyce noted that Chorley-born scout Steve Walsh then offered big money for Pickford, possibly having seen him at Preston too. Walsh got his man for Everton in 2017 – and Allardyce thinks Pickford is one of the best around. Whilst his coaching at Everton is key to that, you can’t underestimate the importance of his stint at Preston, turning in outstanding displays for a team constantly under pressure after promotion to the second tier.
“I knew he was going to the top when I watched him at Preston when he was on loan and I was manager of Sunderland,” said Allardyce. “I brought him back from Preston at Christmas. They wanted him for the year, and he had a few games with us.”
“We got offered an awful lot of money by Leicester City from Steve Walsh when I was at Sunderland. So it was no surprise when Walsh was director of football at Everton that he bought Pickford when Sunderland were relegated (in 2017). There’s not a better young goalkeeper around in Europe at the moment,” he added.