Jordan Pickford relishes the renewed competition for England’s number one spot and the chance to challenge for silverware on home soil this summer.
Having edged out Jack Butland for the starting role at the 2018 World Cup, the 27-year-old justified his selection with some key saves at crucial times during the Three Lions’ run to the semi-finals.
Pickford was the last-16 penalty shootout hero against Colombia and man-of-the-match in the quarter-final triumph against Sweden, but his place since then has been under constant scrutiny.
Gareth Southgate has stuck with him through his ups and downs and the Everton shot-stopper is set to start Sunday’s Euro 2020 opener against Croatia ahead of Dean Henderson and Sam Johnstone.
“Well, since my debut, really, it’s always been competitive and that’s what you want,” Pickford said.
“You don’t want to be having an easy ride because, I don’t know, I just feel like if it’s an easy ride then you get complacent sometimes.
“Whereas you’ve got Popey [Nick Pope] – unfortunately he’s injured this camp and he’s been brilliant.
“Deano has come in the last few camps and Sam made his debut and his performance against Romania was brilliant. He made a match-winning save.
“So having that competition strives us all to be better as goalkeepers and the standards out there on the training pitch it’s unbelievable, really.”
Pope had looked to be pushing Pickford for the shirt at the Euros, having started all three World Cup qualifiers in March with the Everton man out injured.
The 27-year-old never feared he would miss the Euros through that rib issue, nor did he panic when then Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti temporarily dropped him to the bench against Newcastle in November.
“With Carlo, it’s a 38-game season and that’s without any sort of FA Cup or cup games,” Pickford said.
“The biggest thing was when I spoke with the manager was he’s done it through all of his managerial career.
“I think he did it at Real Madrid with (Iker) Casillas and (Diego) Lopez, even (Manuel) Neuer at Bayern Munich, so it’s a common thing for him.
“Everyone’s got to have an opportunity, so it was understand and accept the decision with the manager but you want to play every game and every game you can.”
Asked if Southgate had called to reassure him of his place, Pickford said: “No, not from what I can remember.
“I think just when I get here it’s about training as hard as you can and, like you can say, the competitiveness. All I can do is be my best.
“But I think them games I played in after Carlo took me out for the game against Newcastle, then the next game with England I think I did really well.
“It was Nations League and it was big, competitive games against top nations.”
Pickford now has 31 caps to his name and says he is maturing all the time as a goalkeeper, with the shot-stopper using a sports psychologist to help fine-tune his approach during games.
“The amount of work your parents put in when you’re a kid and they’ve invested into you, so I think you’ve got to invest in your own body to get them next levels and be the best Jordan Pickford I can be,” he said.
“I think it’s definitely helped. It’s put me in a very good place and anything I can do to get better I’ll be doing.
“If it’s in the gym, if it’s a psychologist, if it’s nutrition, anything I can do to be the best Jordan Pickford then I’ll be doing it.”
England will certainly need the goalkeeper at his best this summer if they are to make history.
The Three Lions have never won the European Championship before, with this delayed edition marking the return of major tournament matches to English soil for the first time since the memorable semi-final run at Euro 96.
“I think I was a bit too young (for Euro 96) but all them players, I think Gazza was the standout in that tournament, and I think the biggest thing was it was in England that year,” Pickford, born in 1994, said.
“I just think how big that tournament was in 96 – which I was only two I think!.
“But to have the opportunity to play three group games at Wembley now is just massive for the nation and for us because in your career you don’t have many opportunities to play a major tournament at your home country.”