The Trio Battling to Be Back-up England Goalkeeper to Jordan Pickford

by Dom Smith

With Gareth Southgate set to name his final World Cup squad in a fortnight, three goalkeepers will be eager to assert themselves as the understudy to undisputed No 1 Jordan Pickford ahead of the World Cup…

With the squad comprising 26 players rather than 23, there is space for them all to travel — but who would play if Pickford became unavailable?

Aaron Ramsdale

A surprise £30m signing by Arsenal last season, Ramsdale shrugged off his record of two relegations in the previous two campaigns to assert himself as the club’s undisputed No 1. Bernd Leno left the Emirates for Fulham this summer for first-team football as a result. 

Ramsdale’s emergence last season included a number of phenomenal saves in a 2-0 win over Leicester City last November. There was a sense at the time that perhaps Ramsdale was playing slightly above his usual level and a sense of inevitability that his performances might drop back down to earth as the 2021/22 season progressed.

Heavily capped at England youth level, he made his senior debut in a 10-0 qualifying rout of San Marino in November. He was handed another opportunity to impress during England’s poor Nations League run in June. Ramsdale impressed at Molineux as England held Italy to a 0-0 draw, but was beaten far too often far too regularly when they were thrashed 4-0 by Hungary in the same ground three days later. Rightly or wrongly, that hammering from the Hungarians will have shaken Southgate in the months since — and the bad news for Ramsdale is that he played in it. Nevertheless, he has age on his side at just 24.

Nick Pope

Nick Pope’s move to Tyneside has clearly worked for both parties so far, as he seeks to bump Ramsdale off his perch as England’s deputy to Jordan Pickford ahead of Qatar. Pope was England’s third-choice keeper at the 2018 World Cup but injury prevented him from being a part of the Euro 2020 squad. In 2019/20, Ederson beat him to the Premier League Golden Glove by a single clean-sheet, and he continued to star for Burnley right up until their relegation last season.

Arguably the most capable shot-stopper of the three, and perhaps better even than Pickford in that department, the former York City goalkeeper made his international debut in 2018 and has represented England eight times. 

The problem for Pope is that his distribution is markedly worse than Pickford’s and weaker than Ramsdale’s and Henderson’s as well. He also dropped a clanger to allow Germany back into the game during the sides’ 3-3 draw at Wembley in September. With Southgate’s England looking to play the way they do, that offers Pope little hope of becoming No 1. But his shot-stopping and agility might be enough to earn him the deputy role long-term, especially if new-look Newcastle continue to grow in stature.

Dean Henderson

Having made his England debut in November 2020 when he was briefly keeping David de Gea on the Manchester United bench, Dean Henderson fell off the face of the earth for a year. Only now that he’s saving penalties and starring for Nottingham Forest on his Premier League return is he back in the mix for Southgate’s England. Immensely confident in his own ability — occasionally to his own detriment — Henderson does the basics excellently, and specialises in close-range saves. He’s a very similar profile of goalkeeper to Chelsea’s reinvigorated Kepa Arrizabalaga in that regard.

Because he spent last term on the bench at Old Trafford, he hasn’t played for England since his debut as a substitute in a 2020 friendly win over the Republic of Ireland. By the end of last season he wasn’t even receiving England call-ups; he was dropped in favour of the Championship goalkeeper Sam Johnstone. Henderson no doubt has a successful career ahead of him which will include international football, but Southgate is unlikely to bump him up ahead of both Pope and Ramsdale in a single reshuffle. Being Pickford’s main understudy in Qatar isn’t out of the question, but he’ll more likely have to wait.

The lowdown

Henderson, Pope and Ramsdale will all be named in the squad along with Pickford, but none is pushing hard to replace the Everton man. The batting order, as it stands, is probably Pickford, Ramsdale, Pope, Henderson.

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