Sunderland’s relegation from the Premier League and the well-publicised nature of our disastrous financial situation has inevitably lead to a great deal of speculation about the future of our more high profile players - most notably Jordan Pickford, who as reported by the BBC's Phil McNulty has been subject to a rather paltry bid from Everton.
Lamine Kone has looked like a man who would rather be anywhere other than Wearside for much of this season, Jermain Defoe is unlikely to want to spend the twilight of a stellar career languishing in the Championship and Jeremain Lens cannot get out of Sunderland fast enough. However, the one player who we must really consider the future of is Pickford, a player who could be a huge asset to the club should be opt to hang on to him ahead of next season.
The Sunderland academy product has been a revelation this season, looking like one of the best keepers in England despite playing behind a defence that the fiercest optimist would have to admit was shaky at best. While Pickford may not have kept a great many clean sheets, his keeping ability is unquestionable and his distribution makes him an ideal fit for the likes of Manchester City or Arsenal who look to build from the back rather than relying on aimless punts to a target man centre forward.
However, Pickford has value to Sunderland beyond his obvious playing ability. As a local lad who came up through the ranks at Sunderland, Pickford embodies everything that we as fans want our players to be about and he is exactly the kind of on-field influence Sunderland will need next season, especially if younger players are drafted into the first team squad. With John O’Shea’s playing time likely to be reduced and uncertainty about the future of other experienced players, Pickford could be invaluable as a leader for Sunderland’s Championship campaign.
In addition, he stands as a symbol to the rest of our academy players that with hard work and commitment they too can make it to the first team, providing much needed proof that the pathway exists which could prove crucial in retaining promising youth players such as Joel Asoro. Given that hanging on to talented youth players is likely to be significantly more difficult without the lure of top flight football, this is yet another element to consider when weighing up the potential sale of Pickford.
There is, however, an argument to be made that despite his many qualities Pickford is perhaps too valuable an asset to hold on to given the dire financial straits the club finds itself in.
Given the level of investment that our neighbours Newcastle had to make in order to guarantee an immediate return to the Premier League, Sunderland would appear to be in need of some serious funds in order to overhaul a squad burdened with journeymen and mercenaries uninterested in the club’s fortunes once their pay packet has been secured. This is especially important when you consider the arduous nature of a Championship season and the injury-prone nature of some of our regular players.
Our current finances are not likely to allow for much serious investment and though the sales of the likes of Lamine Kone and Jeremain Lens are likely to generate some funds, the club’s most valuable asset is clearly Pickford. With the squad likely to require at least five or six new signings, the sale of Pickford – who was valued at £30m by the departed David Moyes – would certainly generate some much needed revenue that could potentially be used to fund a summer recruitment drive to build the kind of hungry, fit and talented Sunderland squad we all dream of.
While Pickford is certainly a valuable player to Sunderland at the moment and would attract a hefty transfer fee, it is also worth considering that the young stopper is under a long-term contract and only looks likely to increase in value with further age and experience. While the Championship may not be an elite league, the level of physicality he would experience would surely benefit Pickford going forward and aid in his development into an international class goalkeeper.
Additionally, a successful Championship season with Sunderland would serve to increase Pickford’s standing and assuage any doubts that potential suitors might have about his ability to perform consistently over a long and difficult season. Again, this is likely to increase the fee which Sunderland could demand for our most promising youth prospect in recent years.
All in all, while there is certainly a case to be made for selling Pickford and using the funds to rebuild our aging squad and replace some of the deadwood that has accumulated in recent years, it seems naïve to allow Pickford to leave now for anything less than an utterly astronomical fee. If John Stones and Raheem Sterling are worth almost a combined £100m, then Jordan Pickford should not be going for anything less than £30m and even that sum should be no guarantee that he leaves.