However, unfortunately for the Black Cats, Pickford’s rise may just mean that he’s heading for the Stadium of Light exit door. The young goalkeeper is tipped as England’s future number one and has a number of top clubs hot on his tail.
Pickford has been a shining light in what overall, has been a very dim season for David Moyes and his side. The youngster has received rave reviews and even a call up to the England squad. The 23-year-old boasts 132 saves in 29 appearances this season, just seven shy of Tom Heaton’s 139 saves in 34 games this season – the most in the league. With a save percentage of 75% only Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris betters Pickford with a total of 77%. The England U-21 stopper averages 4.61 saves per game and is only set to get better.
During his loan spell at Preston North End, Pickford equalled the club record for the most consecutive clean sheets, going six games without conceding a goal. And it’s not just his shot stopping that is receiving plaudits but the keeper has also been praised for his excellent distribution, Chris Kirkland recalled: “I have never seen anyone kick a ball like he does”. It’s quite possible that Pickford has been Sunderland’s second main attacking threat this season, behind only Defoe. In a competent side, Pickford’s goal kicks could prove one hell of a threat, but where will we see that threat next season?
Everton are said to said be keen but having tabled a bid of just £10million, it’s likely the Toffees will be outdone. Sunderland will want to hold out for as much as possible for Pickford with Moyes desperate for funds to rebuild a competent squad able to compete in the Championship. Ideally, Moyes would very much like Pickford to remain on Wearside but the Scot knows that Pickford’s sale is the only way to generate the necessary funds, particularly after the revelation that Defoe can leave on a free due to the relegation clause in his contract. Manchester City are rumoured to be interested also and it’s far more likely that they can meet Sunderland’s valuation with Pep Guardiola set to offload Joe Hart permanently. Claudio Bravo and Willy Caballero have made their fair share of mistakes this season and a youthful Pickford would undoubtedly offer a breath of fresh air.
Wherever we see Pickford next season, one thing that is almost certain is that he’ll be donning the England number one shirt in seasons to come and will join up with former Academy of Light graduate Jordan Henderson. Henderson now wears the armband for his country and whilst there’s little to shout about on Wearside at the moment, fans can take pride in their academy’s success stories of recent years. Pickford is one of the only players that can walk away from Sunderland’s tragic season with his head held high.