Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford says he is focused on continuing his improvement for his club with a chance to play at the 2018 World Cup looming.
With Joe Hart struggling for a first-team place at West Ham, Pickford and Stoke’s Jack Butland, who has had his injury problems over the last 18 months, are likely to be vying to be Gareth Southgate’s No. 1 in Russia.
Pickford has been in superb form since his £30 million move from Sunderland in the summer and was man of the match in Saturday’s goalless draw at home to Chelsea — watched by Southgate.
Asked about his World Cup chances, the 23-year-old, who has won 14 England caps, said: “It is still a long way to go. I have to keep putting performances in for Everton. I cannot control anything else. The main thing is making sure I am on the plane because that will be a great experience for myself.
“There is loads of competition, that is why you cannot think about that too much. You can do all the stuff on and off the pitch to get there, but the main thing is performing on a Saturday and getting clean sheets is only going to help.
“But I still feel it is a long way away and I just need to focus on grafting away and becoming better and more mature as a goalkeeper. I have made my debut, which was a dream, and if I could go to the World Cup — I would be 24 then — it would be a great experience.
“I always want to improve and even if that wasn’t the carrot [England No. 1] then I would want to keep improving for myself. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself whereby I am thinking if I am not performing I won’t be in the England squad.”
A number of factors — Hart’s drop in form and Butland’s inconsistent fitness record are two — have aligned to improve Pickford’s credentials, and he accepts that.
“Yes, definitely. Hopefully when March comes round I will get an opportunity to play again,” he said, speaking ahead of Everton’s Boxing Day trip to West Brom. “There are two tough games [against Netherlands and Italy] and what will be will be.
“If that is playing in a World Cup for England, that will be the best thing that has ever happened to me.”