Chris Young: Sunderland face battle to keep Jordan Pickford in summer as Man United & Co will circle

Jordan Pickford, centre, in England training
Jordan Pickford, centre, in England training
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The scandal-induced promotion of the England Under-21 head coach wasn’t necessary for Jordan Pickford to earn a spot among the country’s elite after just seven Premier League appearances.

Gareth Southgate knows Pickford well, of course, after working with him throughout last season, yet if Sam Allardyce had been faced with a similar shortage of goalkeepers, you suspect he would have equally given the rookie Sunderland man the opportunity to train alongside Joe Hart and Fraser Forster.

Perhaps any England manager would have done the same. While Pickford’s profile has been boosted over the last couple of months, he’s long been one of the worst kept secrets throughout football over his potential to be one of the finest in the land.

Just under two seasons ago, Manchester United were keeping close tabs on the Washington-born stopper during his loan spell at Bradford and indeed made contact with Sunderland over a possible deal.

They weren’t alone. Aston Villa and Spurs were also sniffing.

At that stage, there was little value in letting Pickford leave the Stadium of Light. The compensation would have been a pittance compared to what could potentially have been recouped five years down the line.

Justifiably, Sunderland’s blueprint was to keep faith with number one Costel Pantilimon, raise some cash from the Romanian’s sale after another season or two, and then promote Pickford into the first-team jersey.

It hasn’t quite work out like that. Pantilimon’s departure for minimal dosh, combined with Vito Mannone’s second coming, left the latter’s ill-fortune through injury as the route by which Pickford has come into the starting XI.

Other than that blooper at Southampton, Pickford has undoubtedly been Sunderland’s shining light this season.

Mind you, as Simon Mignolet, Pantilimon and Mannone have demonstrated before him, you get plenty of opportunity to stand out as Sunderland’s keeper...

But the 22-year-old’s elevation to the England squad will only deepen interest in Pickford and – barring any dramatic loss of form – already leave Sunderland facing a battle to hold onto their academy product this summer.

That’s not putting unnecessary negativity on the situation or suggesting Sunderland should be looking to offload their prize assets. It’s simply reality. There will be an orderly queue already forming of suitors.

Given their evidently precarious finances and annual struggles at the wrong end of the table, Sunderland are ripe prey for those higher up the pecking order, particularly when it’s an English player up for grabs.

Certainly, if Sunderland are plying their trade in the Championship, then the bids will come flooding in for Pickford and the club will be largely powerless to resist a hefty one if it eases the financial cliff of relegation.

But even if David Moyes can oversee a transformation of this side which would be just as stunning as the ones masterminded by Sam Allardyce and Gus Poyet before him, there will inevitably be some tempting bids on the table for Pickford’s services.

It happened five years ago when Liverpool came in with an offer totaling £19million for Jordan Henderson, and Sunderland saw that income as the chance to finance much of their summer spending spree, without having to rely on Ellis Short’s wallet.

Ultimately, Steve Bruce largely squandered that cash, but in the current situation Sunderland are in, they SHOULD be a club that develops players and then moves them on for whacking great fees.

It’s what Moyes did so successfully at Everton. The likes of Jack Rodwell, Wayne Rooney and Joleon Lescott were offloaded for huge sums and that allowed the then Toffees manager to reinvest that money into the side and improve it.

Once the cycle has been running for several years, the club can look to keep their best youngsters and use them to challenge for silverware or European qualification.

It’s a policy which benefits the players themselves too. Just look at how Henderson has progressed at Anfield, particularly in the opening stage of this season where he has shown his maturity as the holding midfielder in Jurgen Klopp’s increasingly attractive Liverpool side.

Henderson just would not have developed to such a degree had he stuck with a Sunderland side constantly fighting against the drop.

Like Henderson, Pickford is a die-hard Sunderland fan who has grown up with the simple ambition of representing the club he loves.

But as this season wears on, the question marks are only going to build over whether he follows Henderson in taking the step to a club further up the ladder.