Issue #72 When Jordan Pickford went back to Sunderland as a man walks into a bar

As told by Michael Wood

There is a cliché: A man walks into a bar and talks about how he could have been a great footballer but it just did not happen for him. Maybe it was injury or a couple of good players in the youth ranks in his position. Maybe he got further in the game but maybe a change of manager stopped him from getting the chance, or maybe he bottled the big chance but he probably would not tell it that way.

There are a hundred stories from a million people who almost were, but never was.

(In fact, as an aside, I once talked to former City keeper Mark Evans‘ Dad about how in the early 1990s John Docherty had given Evans the impression that he would jump from number three to number one only for the Scot to be fired a few days later.)

And one of those stories is laid out for Jordan Pickford who returned to Sunderland from Bradford City. After Pickford’s 21st birthday at the weekend the terms of his loan would be restated meaning Sunderland would not be allowed to recall him until the 8th of April 2015.

This was unacceptable to Sunderland where Pickford sits behind Vito Mannone and Costel Pantilimon on the bench and so Pickford returned.

Which is the end of the story for the clubs.

Vito Mannone is out of contract in the summer and Sunderland’s place in the Premier League is a little tentative. One can see Pickford finding a chance to get near the Sunderland starting eleven, and one can see him doing well if he does, but one can see many scenarios where that does not happen.

Sunderland’s right to keep Pickford out of the FA Cup stopped him from playing in the win at Chelsea – not a bad learning experience for anyone – and now his return home will stop him learning about a team chasing promotion.

It is not genius to suggest that is Pickford does get the chance to play for Sunderland next season it will probably be in similar circumstances. The club from the North East do as they wish to do.

But what about Jordan Pickford? How will this decision impact him?

Watching Pickford’s athleticism some have been tempted to see him as a future England keeper. So much more than raw athleticism goes into making a top quality footballer thought and what is more is learnt in games that matter.

Indeed Matthew Syed’s Bounce and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers go as far as to suggest suggests that purposeful exposure to experience that matters is the be-all-and-end-all of development.

If that is true then while Pickford has clocked up some useful hours in goal for City this year his chances of becoming the player his raw athleticism suggests he could be have been hampered by Sunderland’s insistence on keeping him back.

The experience of playing against Leeds United, Chelsea, Halifax Town, Millwall, Reading and for the rest of the season at Bradford City would have made Jordan Pickford into a better player. Not getting that experience increases the chance that he will become the cliché of the might-have-been.

If Jordan Pickford knows this he should be furious at Sunderland.

He should march into Gus Poyet’s office and tell him “I’m in the Sunderland first team from now on Gus, otherwise you are flushing my career down the pan.” Every week he sits out during his younger, development years damages him.

If he is watching Sunderland from the stands knowing that City wanted him in between the sticks he should tell Poyet that he wants to leave to go to a club that takes better care of him – be that Bradford City or not – and he would be right to do that.

Football is full of players who never were. Because of Sunderland Jordan Pickford is already the goalkeeper who could have been playing in the win over Chelsea. While he sits in the stands for the next three months Jordan Pickford might want to think he is going to be the goalkeeper who could have had a decent career.