Jordan Pickford has been one of England’s star performers at Euro 2020 – and he has the chance to make himself a national hero on Sunday if the final ends in a dreaded penalty-shootout.
The 27-year-old goalkeeper is already certain to win the Golden Gloves award at the tournament after achieving the most clean sheets with five in a row.
It is a remarkable turnaround for a player whose struggles at Everton last season saw him briefly dropped in November, while he was reportedly subjected to death threats following a controversial challenge on Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk.
So what do we know about the Three Lions’ shot-stopper who is hoping to cement his place in English football history by helping the national team win their first major trophy in 55 years?
While fans and pundits alike have been full of praise for Pickford’s performance at the Euros, he arguably faced the lowest point of his career just months ago.
Pickford’s reckless tackle on van Dijk during the Merseyside derby in October 2020 left the Dutch defender needing knee surgery, ruling him out for the rest of the season and seriously damaging Liverpool’s bid to retain the Premier League title.
Referee Michael Oliver later admitted he made a mistake by not sending off Pickford and the Everton player offered his apologies to van Dijk – but the backlash was severe.
After the game, Merseyside Police said it was investigating abusive social media posts targeting Pickford and it was reported he and his family were being protected by bodyguards after facing death threats.
With questions surrounding his form after a series of goalkeeping errors, Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti left Pickford out of his starting line-up against Newcastle in November 2020.
At the time, the strong displays of Burnley’s Nick Pope raised the prospect of Pickford losing his national team spot.
The scrutiny over his performances led Pickford to seek the help of a sports psychologist.
“We talk about everything,” Pickford said in January.
“He can help me develop my thinking… and learn how to cope with various things and get through sticky patches.
“We speak once week, sometimes once a fortnight. He is always a phone call away, or if we need to do some proper work, we meet up.”
Pickford also credited the birth of his son for helping him deal with criticism.
“You’re always up for criticism when you’re a professional footballer and England player,” he said.
“Having a son definitely helps. It changes your life. I feel I’ve changed.”
In fact, Pickford’s place in the England team was never seriously under threat following the van Dijk incident.
England manager Gareth Southgate revealed he called Pickford to offer his support at the time – and told the goalkeeper his spot was secure.
Born in Washington, Sunderland, on 7 March 1994, Pickford was nicknamed Speedy at school “because he was always going at 100mph”, according to a former teacher.
As a pupil at a Catholic school where his mother Sue worked, Pickford was described as a sporting “all-rounder”, playing tennis and cricket and running cross-country.
But his focus was football and while he made his name as a goalkeeper, he initially played as an attacking midfielder.
His Year 9 football coach described Pickford as a player with “a lovely left foot” who could “ping the ball in from 35 yards”.
It was at school that Pickford met Megan Davison, his childhood sweetheart who he would later marry and who is often pictured in the stands supporting her husband at England matches.
The couple welcomed their first child, a son called Arlo, in 2019.
A boyhood Sunderland fan, Pickford joined the club’s academy at the age of eight, moving up through the youth ranks before signing his first professional contract in 2011.
After loan spells at Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston, Pickford made his first-team debut for Sunderland in a 3-1 FA Cup defeat by Arsenal in January 2016.
Craig Liddle, Darlington’s manager when Pickford joined aged 17, said: “He was very confident and to be fair, wasn’t afraid to put his neck on the line.
“He was a very brave young boy as well, playing against men.”
Liddle, who also worked with Pickford at under-12s level at Sunderland, believes he is now “the best keeper in Europe, if not the world, at the minute”.
Pickford played 31 times for Sunderland and was shortlisted for the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 2017.
But it was his big money move to Everton that propelled him into the spotlight.
The initial fee of £25m – potentially rising to £30m in add-ons – made Pickford the third most expensive goalkeeper in history at the time and the most expensive British goalkeeper of all time.
In his first year at Goodison Park, Pickford was named Everton’s player of the season and he made his England debut in November 2017, in a 0-0 draw with Germany at Wembley.
He had previously represented England at every level from under-16s to under-21s.
Pickford’s impressive club form saw Southgate select him as England’s No. 1 for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, as the Three Lions’ reached the semi-finals and recaptured the nation’s affection for the team.
And it was Pickford who was one of England’s standout performers at the tournament.
He made history in the team’s last-16 tie with Colombia as he saved Carlos Bacca’s spot kick to help England win their first-ever World Cup penalty shootout.
And he produced a man-of-the-match performance in England’s 2-0 win over Sweden in the quarter-finals.
Despite Pickford’s outstanding form at international level, he struggled to replicate it on a consistent basis for his club the following season.
He made a high-profile mistake against Everton’s arch rivals Liverpool in December 2018, mishandling a volley to allow Divock Origi to score a 96th minute winner for the Reds.
In March of that season, Pickford made headlines for the wrong reasons again as the boyhood Sunderland fan lost his cool with Newcastle fans during Everton’s match at St James’ Park, with his team leading 2-0.
Newcastle came back to win 3-2, with Match Of The Day pundit Ian Wright suggesting Pickford should have focused on the game more and not let his emotions affect him.
There was more controversy for Pickford in April 2019 as Everton launched an investigation after reports that he was involved in a street brawl.
A video posted on social media allegedly showed the England player in the middle of a late-night scuffle in Sunderland.
However Pickford’s impressive England form continued in the summer of 2019.
He played a pivotal role for England in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, both scoring and saving in the penalty shoot against Switzerland in the third place play-off.
But Pickford again struggled for Everton in 2019-20, with fans blog Royal Blue Mersey calling it “a season to forget” for the goalkeeper as he kept just nine clean sheets in 38 Premier League games.
Despite another season of ups and downs at Everton leading up to the Euros, Southgate stuck by his goalkeeper going into the tournament – and it has reaped rewards.
Pickford kept clean sheets in five straight games in the tournament including against Croatia, Scotland and Czech Republic in the group stage.
He produced stunning saves to stop Germany’s Timo Werner and Kai Havertz scoring during England’s 2-0 victory in the last-16 encounter, before the Three Lions beat Ukraine 4-0 in the quarter-finals.
It has meant Pickford has surpassed Gordon Banks’ achievement of four straight clean sheets in the triumphant 1966 World Cup campaign.
Pickford will now be hoping to emulate Banks by becoming only the second England goalkeeper to win a major tournament with the national team.