Former England goalkeeper David James believes Jordan Pickford has defied his critics with his composed performances key to Gareth Southgate’s side reaching the last eight of Euro 2020.
Pickford’s mentality has often come into question but the Everton stopper has been in fine form in this tournament, keeping four straight clean sheets.
“I think he’s been fabulous,” James told the PA news agency. “It makes me laugh that people are talking about mistakes in the Premier League back in December and August. Hang on a minute, we’re talking about now…
“He’s been outstanding. He hasn’t really made a mistake, he hasn’t put us under any pressure and he’s been exactly what you want from a goalie in a major tournament.”
Pickford has been criticised for making rash decisions in the past, but James believes that is unfair and pointed to how he handled the one-on-one situation with Thomas Muller in England’s 2-0 win over Germany on Tuesday.
“When Muller got through it was a prime opportunity to do something reckless, to keep running out and try to anticipate Muller but he didn’t, he held his ground and it took a lot of composure,” James said.
“He looks a much more assured goalkeeper, he’s calm and composed. He looks happy, he doesn’t look wound up, and that breeds confidence in the players in front of him.”
England’s first knock-out victory over Germany in 55 years appears to open up the draw nicely as Southgate’s side target the Wembley final on July 11.
“My saying at the moment is that England are champions until someone beats us,” James added. “There’s a bit of England fan in there but there’s a lot of belief. There’s no reason why not – all they need to do is win three games and they’re champions.”
However, James also cautioned against under-estimating Saturday’s opponents Ukraine, who beat Sweden in the last 16 after advancing as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage.
“The idea that it’s going to be an easier game than Germany has to be kyboshed straight away,” he said.
“As we’ve seen with the Netherlands, France and so on, the fancied teams are going out. Ukraine are a different proposition. They’re in the same round as England and they have to be respected.”
Beyond Euro 2020, James is looking forward to a return to his old stomping ground at the Etihad Stadium, with the 50-year-old due to play in the Soccer Aid match on September 4 alongside former rivals Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney.
The goal is to raise money to help UNICEF deliver two billion Covid-19 vaccines where they are most needed around the world, and James is hoping an entertaining show can help.
To that end, he admitted he might look to recreate one of his most famous moments as a Manchester City player – when he had a six-minute cameo as a striker against Middlesbrough in 2005.
“I won about three headers,” James recalled. “It seemed like 15 or 20 minutes but it was actually only five or six. Whether I was in the zone or not I don’t know, or which zone, but it was like time didn’t have any relativity.
“I’m going to have a word with the gaffer though, to do it again would be poetic.”
:: Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2021 takes place on Saturday 4th September at the Etihad Stadium. The money raised from this year’s game will help UNICEF fight back against the Covid-19 pandemic by helping to deliver 2 billion vaccines worldwide. Tickets are available at: www.socceraid.org.uk/tickets