Goalkeeper For England – Who Should Wear The Number One Shirt?

This article is going to be a little different than some of the other ones on the site about the goalkeepers for each squad. In club play, you are not able to pick and choose from a large pool of players. At least not without having to deal with potential transfer fees and contract disputes. Particularly for goalkeepers, these issues tend to benefit those who have reached starter status. Most clubs don’t change goalkeepers all that often. International play obviously takes the money aspect out of the equation. Still, in many countries, one goalkeeper will keep the starting spot for years. When it comes to the position of goalkeeper for England there’s an open debate. There has been for years. 

What I want to look at today are a mixture of options from what England managers have called up in the last few years. As well as, some of the options that maybe should get a call-up and why. Right off the bat, I do have to say this article is put together without a personal bias, whatsoever. I am not an England supporter or anything like that. What I’ve seen with a lot of the videos and articles surrounding the English national team is that folks tend to let their personal bias really play a role. That’s something I’m looking to avoid. 

The last thing I want to point out is that I’ll be looking to update this article quite regularly. The opinions made here are relevant to the time and date of publication. Things can certainly change as time passes. Particularly if new English keepers start to come up the ranks. 

Who Are The Options For At Goalkeeper For England?   

For years one of the main problems when it comes to picking a goalkeeper for England was the fact that most of the top-flight clubs in the Premier League did not employ starting English goalkeepers. In doing my research for this article, I figured out that the problem has intensified. Not only are top-flight teams not using local goalkeepers. Even some of the lower and middle of the pack teams are using foreign keepers. It’s not my intention to start a debate over whether or not it’s a good idea to bring on foreign keepers. For England though it’s a reality that they have to deal with. In any case here are the 5 that I would consider options. 

The top three keepers that are up for discussion are: 

  • Nick Pope
  • Dean Henderson
  • Sam Johnstone

These are not my top 3, they are just the top 3 keepers that got an England call-up in the match right before I wrote this article. I would like to add two other options for consideration. In the form of Jordan Pickford, who is arguably England’s number one, but is out with an injury. I’m also going to try and make a case for Fraser Forster being brought onto the squad as maybe a third option. The fact that I’m going to be doing this kind of points to the lack of starting English goalkeepers in their domestic league.          

Should Jordan Pickford Still Be The #1 Goalkeeper For England? 

This is really the question that needs to be answered. It’s not necessarily that Pickford’s England career has been bad. You’d have to say that it’s quite the opposite. For years England has been looking for a stable answer at goalkeeper. In my possibly controversial opinion, everything after Peter Shilton has not been great. Yes, David Seaman was mostly a below-average keeper when compared to what some of the other nations were bringing to the World Cup and Euros in those days. I always hoped David James would be the answer, but he was very much middle of the pack.

When it comes to Pickford he’s been able to showcase his talents in important situations. The penalty shootouts at the World Cup in 2018 are in many respects a reflection of that. At that tournament in particular England did not look shorthanded in goal in my opinion. I’m someone who remembers the Robert Green and Paul Robinson days. To be fair the bar wasn’t all that high, to begin with for Pickford. Again, though I have to say that he certainly looked the part and passed the test. 

With Pickford, you get pretty much the only “different” goalkeeper of the bunch. If you’ve read my article on Manchester United goalkeepers you know what I think about Henderson. Don’t worry if you didn’t there is more on him coming up. Nick Pope for example is very much a standard between the sticks keeper that can get the job done on any given day. Pickford though is much more athletic, he has great passing ability. He’ll play off the line a little bit more because of how much confidence he has in playing with his feet. Managers are ultimately the ones who chose the style of goalkeeper they would rather go with. In my opinion, when it comes to goalkeeper for England Pickford is the only one who breaks the mold. Therefore, if healthy he’ll probably continue to wear the number one shirt.      


Goalkeeper For England: Nick Pope       

Just taking a look at Pope in many respects tells you all that you need to know about his game. I’m not necessarily saying this as a form of criticism. At the end of the day though, he is very much a between-the-sticks keeper that uses his size and arm length to get to a lot of shots. You’re not going to see him venture too far from the goal line at any point though. In playing for England this last time out he proved that he could more or less hold the position down without too much trouble. Is that enough for Gareth Southgate to say “I’ve seen enough and he’s the number one”? That does not seem likely at all. However, if Pickford’s injury does not subside he’s certainly in the running for the starting role at the European Championships.    

Dean Henderson As The Goalkeeper For England   

If you’ve read the Manchester United article that I wrote you probably have a good idea of what’s coming here. First off I’m not a fan of national teams taking a goalkeeper that is not the starter at their club level and making him the starter at the international level. Although Henderson has seen quite a bit of action this season and maybe wouldn’t look as rusty as some goalkeeper do when this happens to me it’s not ideal.  

Apart from the fact that he doesn’t regularly start for United, I do feel that there are certain technical issues with Henderson. He’s young and he’ll be able to correct the hand placement that leads to a lot of rebounds that end up in the back of the net. It is surprising though to me that a goalkeeper with some very clear flaws is in such a prominent position. Oddly enough reports indicate that even if De Gea leaves Manchester United Henderson is not going to be handed the job outright. If you can’t win the job at club level I don’t love a national team inclusion.    

Is Sam Johnstone The Clear Number Two Option At Goalkeeper For England? 

A couple of things stand out when you look into Sam Johnstone as a player. Particularly when you want to compare him to other options that are out there for England. He is a solid goalkeeper that in my opinion is a much more athletic option than Nick Pope for example. At the same time, you could make the argument that the same bad hands issue that I see in Henderson is true with Johnstone. When you look at Johnstone, very rarely do you see him try to hold onto a shot that is not coming right at him. If the shot is even a little to the side you can almost be certain that he is going to try and punch the ball out or make sure that it goes off to the side. 

That means that you have to deal with some of the same negative things that you get with Henderson. Defenders always have to make sure that they are on their toes for rebounds. I do think that even though I don’t love the fact that Johnstone very early in the shot gives up on catching the ball he usually does make an effort to make sure he gets enough power on it to deflect it further away from the goal. It’s a positive outcome in what I would totally consider a negative habit. In my opinion, right now he is more athletic than Pope and safer than Henderson. All while still being about a step behind Pickford when it comes to overall play.   

 Fraser Forster As Third Goalkeeper For England Really?  

Hear me out on this one before you completely dismiss the idea. Fraser Foster did not play a single game last season in the Premier League. He backed up Alex McCarthy, who himself could have been an option for England. In the past couple of weeks though Forster has held down the starting spot with McCarthy being relegated to the bench. This would have to remain the case for Forster to earn another call up that’s for sure. The main reason why he could/should get a call up is bringing some experience to the room. Keeping young guys like Henderson on the roster could even be bad for his career. How would you feel if you got a call up to the national team if you’re a sub? It can make it hard for the player to evaluate his own career. 

Forster at this point in his career would not really be a threat to take the starting spot. Yet, he could make use of his personal experience in the locker room. Some of the guys that could get a call up like Pope and Sam Johnstone are not “young” players anymore either. The thing is they don’t boast international experience. If you’re keen on making Pickford your starter it could make sense to take a backup like Johnstone and then bring along the veteran presence of Forster. It’s just a thought, and there’s a pretty decent chance that this is not something that is ever going to take place. I went out on the limb though with a bit of a dark horse candidate. 

If Healthy & Able Pickford Will Probably Remain At Goalkeeper For England 

After going through the options it’s pretty clear that if he’s healthy and in good playing form, Pickford is going to be the goalkeeper for England at the European Championships this summer. The injury concern though does open the door for other players to jump out and take the spot. Giving Pope playing time is an interesting decision. I would probably rank him the lowest on the options list other than Forster of course. Then again, it’s pretty understandable that Southgate wanted to see what he had in him. There’s also a developing storyline between Johnstone and Henderson. In that, there are rumors that Man United is interested in having Johnstone make a return if De Gea leaves. 

The fact that United is looking at this option kind of points to the fact that the team isn’t sold on Henderson. That in many ways just strengthens my point. I don’t see Henderson as a stable option at goalkeeper at this point in time for a top-flight club. He’s only 24 years old though. He would benefit greatly from another loan. If he puts in performances as he did at Sheffield there’s a chance that he can come back and fight for the number one shirt at Man United and for England. At the end of the day though, it’s Southgate’s decision. It’s certainly going to be an interesting one to keep an eye on. Particularly if Pickford remains sidelined.