The 2018 World Cup is fast approaching and many pundits are discussing what the England squad will look like, with the goalkeeper position being a particularly hot topic.
Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville recently gave their opinion on the subject on Sky Sports. The ex-Liverpool defender said it’s a choice between Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford, while the former Manchester United star insisted Joe Hart has to be under consideration based on his experience, but only if he can get back into the West Ham team.
However, there’s only one man who should start between the sticks for the Three Lions this summer – Burnley’s Nick Pope.
Many critics will say he’s too inexperienced at the highest level and is yet to make an international appearance at any level, but that shouldn’t matter. If a player is good enough and on form, they should be given a chance over players who aren’t performing as well.
As mentioned, Pope is yet to receive an England cap at any level and started this season as Burnley’s reserve goalkeeper. He hadn’t yet made a league appearance for The Clarets following a move from Charlton Athletic in July 2016 and was facing another season warming the bench.
But, the 25-year-old got a chance to impress when Tom Heaton was forced to go off with a shoulder injury in the first half of the fourth league match of the season against Crystal Palace. Impress is exactly what he did, making a couple of brilliant saves as Burnley kept their first clean sheet of the season in a 1-0 victory.
Since then, Pope has gone from strength to strength. In 26 Premier League appearances, he has kept nine clean sheets and conceded more than one goal in a single match just four times. All four of those occasions were against the top four teams in the league.
He has shown a maturity and talent well above what was expected of him and his performances have helped Burnley get themselves in a position where they’re challenging for a top six finish.
They currently sit seventh in the Premier League table, just five points behind Arsenal. If it wasn’t for a run of eleven matches without a win between mid-December to the end of February, they may have been sitting even higher in the table.
Pope is one of the main reasons why they are doing so well.
It will be interesting to see what manager Sean Dyche decides to do when Heaton is back to full fitness, but it would be criminal to drop Pope after his performances this season.
So, if Heaton was considered one of the favourites to replace Hart as England number one, surely Pope must be now.
Statistically, he stands above the other English goalkeepers in the Premier League and if his form continues, he should be the automatic choice for the number one shirt in Russia.
Of ten English goalkeepers who have appeared in the Premier League this season, there are only five who should be under consideration for the three England squad places available.
Heaton has missed most of the season injured, Ben Foster is retired from international football, Lee Grant has only made three league appearances for Stoke City this season and was never really in contention anyway, while Alex McCarthy and Karl Darlow should be ruled out too.
That leaves Pope, Hart, Pickford, Butland, and Fraser Forster. So, using the official Premier League website, let’s take a look at some of their main statistics for the 2017/18 season.
|Player||Nick Pope||Joe Hart||Fraser Forster||Jordan Pickford||Jack Butland|
|Conceded Per Match||0.85||2.14||1.5||1.69||1.81|
|Errors Leading to Goals||0||2||2||0||0
But scored one own-goal
|Accurate Long Balls||288||145||105||270||274|
Statistically, Pope is the best-performing keeper on this list.
He has conceded the fewest goals in total and per match, his number of high claims, catches and punches show a solid command of his area, he has made no errors leading to the opposition scoring, and his high number of accurate long balls help his side in an attacking sense.
This should be enough for England manager Gareth Southgate to at least give Pope a chance between the sticks in friendlies with Italy and Holland later this month, but also should put him in pole position to start in goal for his country at the World Cup.
He may have no international experience, although there isn’t much between the other candidates if you remove Hart from the list.
The current West Ham reserve stopper has 75 caps for his country, but poor performances and low confidence have seen him dropped by a club fighting to avoid relegation to the second tier of English football.
Surely, if he isn’t deemed good enough for a domestic relegation battle, he cannot then be picked to keep goal for his country at the biggest international tournament in the world.
Among the other candidates, Forster and Butland have six caps apiece and Pickford has one. So, Pope’s lack of international experience shouldn’t be brought into the debate. Heaton only has three England caps and he was top of the list to replace Hart at the start of the season.
Southgate has already earned a reputation as a manager who will pick his squad based on form and not past achievements.
He has handed senior international debuts to several players since taking over the reigns of the national team and seems to be looking to build a team for the future, not the past.
If he continues to pick the team based on form, there’s only one name he should write on his team sheet next to the ‘1’.
Peter Reynolds, Pundit Arena