With the January transfer rumour mill in full swing, gossip about Sunderland’s precocious young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been rife. Hardly a top side in England is yet to be linked to the 22 year old stopper, perhaps an unsurprising consequence of Pickford’s outstanding form in a struggling Sunderland side.
However, despite Pickford’s crucial contribution so far this season, Sunderland’s perilous financial situation has lead to calls from some quarters for the Black Cats to cash in on one of their most eminently saleable assets.
While there is no doubting that a young English player of Pickford’s undoubted talent and promise would attract an extremely healthy transfer fee, it is questionable whether Sunderland would truly benefit in the long term from the sale of the first genuine starlet the North East has produced since Jordan Henderson.
The first issue to consider is whether Sunderland would, at this point in time, receive a transfer fee that would reflect Pickford’s true value.
With Sunderland’s financial issues hardly a well-kept secret, there is a strong possibility that any negotiations for Pickford would be hindered by a weakened bargaining position. We need look no further than the sale of Jordan Henderson to Liverpool to see the risk of selling off a promising young player before he has begun to fulfill his promise.
Sunderland may have received a very useful fee - in the region of £20m - for Henderson, but the almost £100m combined fee Manchester City paid for John Stones and Raheem Sterling shows what might have been missed out on by selling Henderson too hastily. The Sunderland hierarchy would do well to consider this before contemplating any offer for Pickford.
It is also worth noting the pattern that has drawn many of Sunderland’s star players away from the club in recent years. Both Henderson and Darren Bent, another Sunderland star player sold for potentially less than his true value, were in part lured away by the commonly held view that Sunderland is a graveyard for player’s international careers. Bent was told in no uncertain terms that his move to Aston Villa could enable a successful England career, while Henderson undoubtedly saw a move to Liverpool as a chance to enhance his international prospects. Meanwhile, throughout the years where England lacked a genuine midfield anchor – prior to the emergence of Eric Dier – Lee Cattermole went completely ignored, not even given an opportunity in a friendly game.
While there is no question that England managers have an apparent tendency to ignore the form of Sunderland’s players, there is a chance that Pickford could be the exception to the rule. Having already been selected for the England squad and with the new England manager familiar with his talents, Pickford is well placed to take the opportunity to establish himself in Gareth Southgate’s future plans.
Were Pickford to establish himself as an England international while at Sunderland, this could have a ripple effect, both turning the heads of England’s selectors towards the North East and removing a huge part of the stigma associated with a move to Sunderland. In the long term, hopefully this will attract a higher standard of player to the Stadium of Light and help the club to retain promising young players for longer.
While there may be much to gain in the short term from the sale of Jordan Pickford, David Moyes and the rest of the Sunderland management team should also take care to consider the long term benefits of hanging on to Pickford for some time yet.