There is nothing quite like an academy product coming through the ranks of the club and going on to be extremely successful in his position nationally and internationally. With glee, the coaches in Sunderland’s academy can say proudly that they had a hand in nurturing and developing England’s number one goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, whose birthday we celebrate today.
Pickford, who turns 29 today, joined the club’s academy when he was eight. His potential was earmarked from an early age, with the coaches said to be impressed by his passion and determination for stopping goals, and the consequential passion he would feel when he conceded.
By 2010, the boyhood Sunderland fan was rewarded with a two year scholarship deal before being upgraded to the club's reserve team a year later after impressing. This led to him signing professionally in 2012 on a long term deal which reinforced the club's belief that this man was a talent worth keeping.
From this point onwards, Pickford worked himself through the leagues going on an abundance of loans which he cited played a massive role in his development. Over a four year spell, the goalkeeper spent time at Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End - the latter being the one where he began to make name for himself.
Speaking about Preston, Pickford believed this was a turning point in his career.
One of my best spells was when I was at Preston. I kept a record number of clean sheets for Preston. I was on a seven clean sheet spell. Alan Kelly, my goalkeeping coach at Preston, is now my goalkeeping coach at Everton.
The Preston one was the move where I knew I was ready. I was playing really good football and I had a really good time there.
Those performances at Deepdale did not go unnoticed, and halfway through the loan spell Pickford was recalled to be part of the first team, challenging Vito Mannone for the number one jersey at the club.
At this time, Sam Allardyce was the Sunderland manager, and he had no qualms about throwing him in for his full league debut against Tottenham only weeks later. Unfortunately for Pickford, it was a day to forget with Sunderland losing 4-1, though the goalkeeper played a huge part in ensuring it was not any more.
With Sunderland staying up in dramatic circumstances, Pickford had the opportunity to cement his place as the number one goalkeeper in the Premier League. Under the stewardship of David Moyes he made 29 appearances, impressing immensely in a struggling Sunderland team.
According to Premier League stats, Pickford was in the top five for the highest amount of saves, punches and most saves inside the box for that doomed season. Again, his performances were not going unnoticed and it did not take long for the big clubs in the Premier League to begin sniffing around the Sunderland goalkeeper.
With big clubs such as Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United linked, it was somewhat surprising that he ultimately joined Everton in the summer of 2017 in a deal worth around £30 million pounds.
Though it is a substantial amount of money for a goalkeeper, Pickford has proved his worth at Goodison Park with some decent performances in another struggling side - and with a new contract just signed, it looks like he will be there for some time to come.
At the age of 29 today, Pickford has truly cemented himself as a top Premier League goalkeeper along with being England’s best. With goalkeepers usually offered a longer career, there is still plenty to come from this man.
Happy Birthday Jordan!