18 months ago, if you’d asked any non-Sunderland fan in England what they knew about Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, you’d be hard pressed to find many with a list ready.
Unless you were a Bradford, Burton or Carlisle fan, where the 22-year-old spent loan spells at between 2012 and 2014.
I first saw Pickford play towards the back end of the 2013/14 season, when his loan club, Carlisle, travelled to Deepdale.
He looked a talent with plenty of potential, and made some important saves, despite the scoreline – Carlisle lost 5-1 but given that their defence had struggled all season and they were eventually relegated, the scoreline was not a huge shock.
Next season he returned to the same stadium with Bradford, and looked a class above his team mates.
Bradford won 2-1, this mainly being down to Pickford’s command of his area – especially from crosses – and some brilliant saves when the score was 1-0.
The Sunderland-born stopper signed with Preston on a season-long loan last season after impressing at Valley Parade. ]
His debut ended with a clean sheet, and he put in various man of the match performances in his 6 months at the club, alongside a club record 6 consecutive clean sheets.
He was eventually recalled by the then-Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce, and has been gradually brought in to the first team setup at the Stadium of Light after Vito Mannone dislocated his shoulder last month.
After a number of impressive performances, Pickford has deservedly earned an England call up, just 18 months after plying his trade in League 2.
What does this say about the Premier League and it’s current policy on loans? Most teams are reluctant to loan out their young talents, preferring to either play them in under-21 competitions or by easing them into the first team.
However, if you lack either the youth facilities or places in the first team squad, the only other option for clubs is to loan their players out to give them match experience.
Pickford is one such example of a player who has succeeded at lower levels before reaching the Premier League.
Bristol City’s Tammy Abraham could be another – he has already scored 12 goals for City and many are tipping him to play regularly at Stamford Bridge.
With Chelsea only having 2 realistic challengers for the striking spot, the tips may soon become reality.
This shows the value of the loan system – if Premier League clubs see their young talents are performing well in the Championship, League 1 and League 2, they may be more willing to send more of their players out on loan in the future.
It also shows how quickly a player can progress in the lower leagues – Pickford went from League 2 to the Premier League in three years, and there are many more examples.
In an era where the gap between top tier and second/third/fourth tier football is ever increasing, details such as these will be vital in reminding the FA that lower league clubs have a huge part to play in the future of English football.