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David James: England and Jordan Pickford look to be in the zone

A quarter-finalist with England in 2004, EURO2020.com columnist and former goalkeeper David James says current No1 Jordan Pickford is an increasingly reassuring presence between the posts.

I was certainly buzzing for a day or two after that win against Germany. It was almost the perfect performance from England – the game plan was executed superbly, to a man. This is a team playing as a team, not as a collection of individuals. They look to have such a good connection throughout the squad.

Gareth Southgate's selection against Germany was more defensive than many expected – considering the attacking options at his disposal – but after that performance it all made sense. Germany are a team capable of scoring goals and causing problems; England kept a clean sheet and, in many ways, controlled the game.

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Jordan Pickford put in another excellent display, too. He always has a lot of scrutiny on him as the England goalkeeper, but I just didn’t see some of the mistakes people were suggesting he had made during the season.

Jordan Pickford takes a breather during England training
Jordan Pickford takes a breather during England training The FA via Getty Images

I’ve heard that he’s been seeing a sports psychologist, which is absolutely right. I had one back in 2000 and it transformed my career – to the point that I got back into the England squad and managed to get 52 caps out of it. That side of the game really is as important as any of the physical stuff.

I’m not sure what Jordan has done with his psychologist, but a lot of the work I did was about imagery. That’s all about imagining the possible scenarios you might encounter – I used to do it in my car, in the shower, sat at home or in a hotel room. You can just go through a game plan in your head – it’s a mental practice which you can go through that can save you going on to the training field for eight hours.

Self-talk is another thing. All these things are about having thought about what you’re going to do in any particular moment on the pitch. You’re still going to have to react, but you’re halfway there because you’ve already imagined it.

When you reach the peak as a goalkeeper, when you’re really in the zone, you actually don’t know what’s going on. It’s such a weird feeling – you miss all the good bits! It’s scary. I’ve played games when my perception of time went entirely because I was just so in the zone, so in the game. It’s the best place to be because all you’re doing is focusing on what’s in front of you, nothing else.

Jordan Pickford (left) reacts after Thomas Müller's missed chance for Germany
Jordan Pickford (left) reacts after Thomas Müller's missed chance for GermanyGetty Images

Perhaps Pickford’s best moment of EURO so far was that Thomas Müller one-on-one. There was a moment where he could’ve lost his head and committed himself in a way that would have been advantageous to Müller, but he didn’t. He forced Müller into an awkward shot. It’s one of those moments where I look at what he did and think he got it spot on. He’s had his hot-headed moments but there’s no doubt he’s learnt from those. I’ve got full confidence in him.

You can’t get away from the fact that this – Ukraine in Rome on Saturday – is a EURO quarter-final, but England are preparing to play one game. You go out there and play the game in front of you. The crowd, the excitement around the country, is just the backdrop to what you’ve got to do. All the euphoria can wait. Deal with the game and then enjoy what follows.

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