There were very few things about Sunderland that were positive during the entire campaign in the 2016-17 season. From the outset, the team was abject, management uninspiring and outlook doomed. The few bright spots included their brave young fan Bradley Lowery’s presence at several of their games; his favourite player – Jermain Defoe and his goal scoring exploits in a lost cause, and equally futile – Jordan Pickford’s brilliant goal keeping, which combined with Defoe’s heroics in attack, dangled some hope in front of the Black Cats till quite late in to the second half.
But despite all these positives, when Sunderland’s relegation was confirmed, it was very much expected that the club will see some sort of exodus due to the loss of status. The exodus indeed started, led by the manager David Moyes, almost immediately after the last match of the campaign. This week the news arrived that one of the bright lights of the campaign – Pickford, was the latest to exit from the Championship bound club, back into the Premier League.
On Tuesday, June 13, BBC reported that Everton had agreed a £30 million deal with Sunderland for the 23-year old Jordan Pickford. Of these, Everton will pay £22 million in cash and £8 million will be as add-ons. Pickford, who is on England U-21 duty at the European Championship, is expected to have a medical and sign the deal with Everton when he returns.
If the transfer price estimates are accurate, this deal will make Pickford the third most expensive goalkeeper in Europe behind the £32.5 million that Juventus paid to Parma for Gianluigi Buffon way back in 2001 and £35 million that Manchester City paid for Ederson just a few days back.
Although after their stake sale to the Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri in 2016, Everton have cash in hand for such a deal, but to buy the most expensive British goalkeeper of all time is a unique situation for the club and its fans. So, let us take a look at whether this transfer is likely to be a good deal for the Toffees or not.
Jordan Pickford came up the youth ranks at Sunderland to sign his first professional contract in 2011. Between 2011 and January 2016, he went out on loan six times to Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End.
His manager at Preston, Simon Grayson believes that the move to Everton will inspire Pickford and the seemingly vacant No. 1 spot for England will be added motivation for the 23-year old. He was all praise for the keeper saying, “When the top clubs are looking for players and good keepers, they are looking for shot stoppers but also keepers with exceptional feet – and we said that he could have played outfield with the quality of his feet.”
Pickford was recalled from his loan at Preston in January 2016, when he debuted in the FA Cup for Sunderland in January 2016. His Premier League debut followed a week later. He started the 2016-17 season as second choice to Vito Mannone but an injury to the senior keeper allowed Pickford to mark himself as first choice throughout the campaign.
Comparison with Everton Keepers
Everton played Joel Robles and Maarten Stekelenburg in the 2016-17 season and both of them had an average season. WhoScored ratings of 6.99 for Robles and 6.52 for Stekelenburg are nothing to celebrate. It could be their performances that have led Everton to search for a better option in the goal. So, how does Pickford compare with these two Everton players?
On a per game basis, Pickford almost saved five (4.7) shots every game, while Robles and Stekelenburg saved 2.7 and 2.2 shots respectively. Now, this stat is a bit misleading as it can be argued that Pickford was shielded by a weaker defense than the Everton goalkeepers. So, Pickford had more shots taken on his goal and hence saved more. But if we take a look at the save percentages, Pickford had the same save percentage (72.97%) as Robles in the league in 2016-17, and was almost 10% points better than Stekelenburg (63.64%).
Another metric that is used to evaluate goalkeepers is the number of shots they save per goal conceded. In this metric, Pickford leads with 2.7 saves per goal conceded. This means that on an average, opponents would have to make four unblocked shots on target to score a goal against Pickford. For Robles, this number is 2.0 saves per goal conceded and for Stekelenburg it is 1.7 saves per goal conceded. This means that Pickford makes the opponents work harder for a goal as compared to the current Everton keepers.
Another strength for Pickford is his long distribution. If we just look at distribution success, Pickford trails both Stekelenburg and Robles with just 71% successful distribution, compared to 75% for Robles and 80% for Stekelenburg. But when you put that in the perspective of the teams they played for – Pickford for Sunderland who played long ball football and the other two for Everton, who like to build from the back, that 71% success rate seems admirable. As Simon Grayson said, Pickford is good with his feet so building from the back should not be difficult for him but accurate long ball distribution would give Everton another plan in case it was needed.
Finally, let us look at the age and contract situations for all three keepers. Pickford is only 23 years old and is contracted to Sunderland till 2020. Stekelenburg is almost 35 and is with Everton till 2019. Robles, who had more league appearances of the two is very close to 27 but has only a year left on his contract. So, with Pickford’s slightly longer contract and better profile, a higher valuation is justified, while the other two will either play second fiddle to him or will leave Everton soon.
From the player’s perspective, we can say that one of the few members of the Sunderland team who can be said to deserve Premier League football will get back in to the top tier. From Everton’s perspective, while £30 million might seem like a steep price, with Pickford’s added quality, it seems justified. Toffees can rejoice. They are getting a sweet deal.