In the aftermath of Saturday’s game, and an error that led to a goal, Jordan Pickford will have experienced a feeling familiar to so many footballers for a period of their professional careers. You start to believe that everyone hates you – the fans, the media, the pundits.
The first mistake is to entertain it. Pickford’s second was to tell the world, a bigger error in my view, than the one which allowed Christian Benteke to score his first goal since April. “The press and everybody; the punters – look at Gary Neville – they just want to come for England players,” Pickford said afterwards. “Everyone hates you, for some reason. I just get on with it. You have got to live with it, you have got to learn”.
I can tell Jordan now he is wrong. I know because there were times in my career when I thought the same. It would afflict me in my lowest moments, when I had made mistakes, or when Liverpool had signed yet another player in my position. In my early twenties, for instance, I was the subject of a lot of criticism from Liverpool supporters who considered me not attacking enough as a full-back, the position I played in then. For a while it felt like the whole world was against me.
In September 2003 I broke my leg and the four months out the team were a time for reflection. I realised it was not hatred that I was facing. My critics had a point. I came back into the side in January and went on a run of form that took me all the way to the European championships with England that summer. There were times when the paranoia would return and I would have to fight against it, but I never let the thought establish itself in my head for too long.
I would say to Pickford that there is no agenda, rather the scrutiny is a consequence of being an England international. It is clear to me that he is struggling with the criticisms, and anybody would, but dealing with it and using it as motivation is one of the great challenges of the game.
Discuss and analyse it as much as you need to with friends or professionals. Talk it through and resolve it, and then get out there and perform. But do not allow anyone outside your circle of trust to think it has got to you.
The criticism for Pickford has come over the last year for the mistakes that he has made. It is hard to hear, but it is part of the universal challenge of competitive sport that there is no hiding from your shortcomings and you have to address them every day.
Pickford needs to remember his strengths. At his best he is a fearless, instinctive goalkeeper. He has had periods of his career when the crowd and social media have loved him, not least the last World Cup finals. The Sunderland boy who goes to the darts and plays up to the cameras – that suggests a strong character to me. He is going to need all that strength because getting to the top, and then staying there, are not easy.
He gets a lot of stick on social media, especially from Liverpool fans over that Divock Origi goal in the derby in Dec 2018. Steven Gerrard, with all that he had achieved in the game, was still the subject of constant stick for his slip against Chelsea, both online and at stadiums from opposing fans. He cannot change it. He has to find a way to deal with it, as Pickford will too.
The negative effect of criticism on social media goes a long way beyond just the players themselves, for whom it can be very hard to read thousands of critical messages in the aftermath of a game. It is also takes its toll on their families who read it as well. Those doing it need to recognise just how much what they post affects players. It is virtually impossible to protect yourself from it, even more so parents, partners and children, and that is very hard to take.
Pickford is right that the scrutiny goes up a level when you play for England, although it tends to be harder playing for your country and the worst excesses come in the aftermath. Pickford also has to be honest about what has happened to him in the time since the last World Cup and accept that some of the criticism has been justified.
Think of Russia and you think of his decisive penalty save in the shoot-out against Colombia and the brilliant stop earlier in the game from that top-corner bound shot from Mateus Iribe. Since then there have been fewer of those great moments. He is a good goalkeeper but not yet a great one and if he is realistic it is now, at 25, and in his third season at Everton that he needs to make that step up to being one of the best in the Premier League. If Chelsea are to recruit a new goalkeeper this summer my argument would be that Pickford would not be first in their thoughts, and that should tell him something.
I notice that Pickford has taken a full role in promoting the Duke of Cambridge’s Heads Up mental health campaign and that is to his credit. He has had to cope with pressure his whole career. He would be my first choice for the European championships this summer and I would assume that Gareth Southgate has no intention of changing his goalkeeper in a tournament year, although Dean Henderson and Nick Pope will be a challenge to Pickford beyond that.
It never stops for a player at that level, and especially not a goalkeeper where every minute decision is analysed. The world is not against you – but if you allow your mind to go down that path, then it can feel like that.
Source: Telegraph UK