Big night over in Russia, then.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of Tuesday’s rollercoaster wasn’t the gloriously satisfying scene of Pickford’s powerful palm meeting Carlos Bacca’s spot-kick, but instead the fact he was presented with the platform from which to make his mark. A comfortable 1-0 win may have been favoured before the game, but it wouldn’t have answered any of the lingering questions about whether Pickford was England’s suitable No1 choice for the quarter-final with Sweden.
Penalties put Pickford in the spotlight. It gave him the opportunity to be a hero and in turn convert the doubters.
We won’t get carried away. He wasn’t 10/10 superb against Colombia, just like he wasn’t as bad as the reaction suggested after Belgium.
Ultimately, the lad is now in credit.
A lot has already been said about the stop from Bacca and that last-minute save to deny Mateus Uribe. What hasn’t gained as many column inches, however, is the detailed process Pickford went through from the final whistle of extra-time to his decisive moment.
Marginal gains is an oft-used term in sport these days. With meticulous water bottle planning alongside England goalkeeping coach, Martyn Margetson, and the foolish murmurings of Thibaut Courtois ringing in his ears, Pickford’s attention to state management and the resulting influence it had on his performance was bang on the money. Let’s take a closer look.
1 He had time for banter
Moments after Southgate named his order of takers, Pickford pulled away from the crowd and enjoyed a giggle with fellow goalkeepers Jack Butland and Nick Pope. It showed how, as a trio, they knew exactly what was ahead. Pressure? Nope. Goalkeepers love a penalty shootout because we can make it all about us. I’d imagine this is what they were touching on here.
2 He broke off from the huddle
As Southgate rallied the troops, Pickford caught himself on the big screen before loosening his upper body, pouting his lips and breathing in heavily through his nose. He had commenced his mental and physical preparation and probably didn’t even listen to his manager. Instead he’d have been visualising who he was set to face, where they’d direct their penalty and how he’d stop them.
3 He listened to Jack
Among the most harmonious England squad we’ve seen in years, the goalkeepers’ union shows real signs of solidarity. Following the huddle, Pickford cut everyone off and buried his head in his towel as Butland handed him his water bottle and appeared to deliver a final pep talk. It was his one moment of visibly extreme focus alongside the smiles and postural techniques.
4 He sent a message to Ospina
Breathing has a massive impact on state management. That involves sticking your chest out to send a powerful physiological message to both you and those nearby. Here, Pickford is almost predator-like. In addition to continuing his prep, he was letting David Ospina know who the alpha male was. Notice the contrast between the two postures.
5 He was remarkably relaxed
This is his initial walk from the centre spot to the goal. Pickford was in an optimum state of mind and genuinely excited about what lay in store. He casually strolled ahead of Ospina in what was all part of a well-rehearsed plan. Aside from stating how he’d researched each taker, he’d clearly read up on methods to enhance his superiority.
6 He made them wait
Much like a business meeting, Pickford wanted the Colombian players to know they were in his office. This was his house and only when he was ready for action could they consider his presence. Each taker was ready at the spot before Pickford had even left his towel and drink station. He deliberately aimed to unsettle.
7 He got bigger
Standard stuff here. Pickford jumped and forcefully rocked the bar before each penalty. In addition to making him look harder to beat, it would have been a ploy to affect the taker’s focus with a peripheral distraction and noise from his gloves on the bar. A classic ‘Grobbelaar jelly legs’ scenario, if you will.
8 He puffed. A lot
As touched upon above, Pickford aggressively exhaled to re-enforce his empowered state and to ensure he didn’t tense up. By reducing anxiety, he increased his level of performance. Think of it this way: If he was scared and lethargic, his agility would be compromised. If powerful and explosive, he had a far better chance of reaching the ball.
9 He passed it on
I tweeted about this on the night. Pickford was quick to retrieve the ball after each penalty and hand it to his teammates. A clear directive from management (most likely as a result of Southgate’s own experience with German goalkeeper, Andreas Köpke, in 1996), this allowed each taker to have full control over their own penalty prep.
10 He was set
“Set, react and go power.” Pickford’s post-match words explained how he intended to save each penalty. By going through his routine, the ”power and agility” he also referred to allowed him to use his arms to explode from behind the line and almost leap forward at an angle to cut off the space. He geared up to generate as much power as possible into the dive.
11 He beckoned them in
I’ve seen him adopt this stance in training. His hands were out in front with his palms faced upwards, giving the taker another distraction. This was an extension of his power stance to ram home his set position.
12 He gave Bacca the eyes
Give someone daggers and, regardless of their own state of mind, there’s always a chance it might affect them. Pickford locked his gaze on the Colombian players as he walked to the line. For a brief moment before his penalty, Bacca met that gaze and mirrored Pickford’s breathing. Was the England stopper in his head? The resulting save suggested so.
13 He momentarily forgot
Prior to England’s first four penalties, Pickford had crouched at his station behind the byline. Whether it was his full confidence in Eric Dier to score, or his realisation of the potential magnitude in saving Bacca’s attempt, he may have briefly lost himself in the moment. It looks as though the referee is pointing at him to take up an appropriate position. As it went…
15 Oh, and he could have been next up
We might never know, but it appeared as though Southgate made it clear to Pickford what number taker he was. My guess is that he would have been an early option in sudden death. With the arguable exception of Harry Kane, his accuracy and power is more emphatic than anyone else in the squad. It makes perfect sense for him to be a main taker.