Three years ago, picking up a young Jordan Pickford from relegated Sunderland looked a serious coup for Everton, who had ideas of a glorious rebuild on their minds.
It’s taken some time – and a lot of money – but that rebuild seems to finally be coming to fruition under managerial great Carlo Ancelotti.
After taking over in late 2019, the Italian did what he could in what remained of a stop-start 2019/20 campaign, but has hit the ground running this season with a new look side thanks to the backing of the board, winning every game they’ve played thus far.
There’s still an elephant in the room, though. A goalkeeper-shaped elephant.
Put simply, it’s not quite happened for Pickford. What looked like a shrewd signing is now starting to look like a waste of £30m three years on, as the England international has seriously regressed in developing as everyone anticipated.
The Toffees aren’t shy of spending money under Farhad Moshiri, and while most of it seems to have gone on just about every attacking midfielder in world football at some point, it’s time to refocus and use just a little more of it.
The signings of James Rodriguez, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure have gone a long way in strengthening their midfield and the deadline day addition of Ben Godfrey will prove handy in defence.
But Everton now need to get a solid goalkeeper over the line who can take up the number one spot before they undo all of the hard work done in the early stages of this season.
It’s always harsh having to single out an individual as the sole liability in a team, and for a while he wasn’t the only weak link. But time, like it so often does, has caught up with Pickford.
There were a few glimpses of weakness throughout his debut season in Merseyside, but his performances were enough to win him the club’s Player of the Season award and secure his spot as the undisputed number one at the 2018 World Cup.
He made a solid account of himself once again in Russia and it looked like he had heaps of development potential.
The weaknesses have remained, however, which has been his downfall. Be it a failure of the coaching staff, himself or both, Pickford still struggles with key areas of his game.
He’s notoriously weak from crosses and is regularly beaten, his handling is poor and if he isn’t parrying a shot he should be catching if it weren’t for better positioning, then he’s spilling one into danger areas.
Everton‘s lack of a competitive number two means that Pickford is guaranteed the majority of minutes, to make matters worse.
It means that despite his consistently poor form, he’s untouchable in the lineup and cannot escape the limelight after a howler, which at this point is a more regular fixture than Brock Lesnar in WWE.
Unlike other areas on the field, a team simply cannot compensate for a sub-par goalkeeper.
The keeper is the difference between a good team and a great team, and can be vital in earning a side points throughout a season.
Alisson has proven this at Liverpool, as has Ederson at Manchester City and most recently Emi Martinez, who’s shown serious promise in his first few games at Aston Villa.
A mistake against Brighton at the weekend adds to his portfolio and is already his third error this season.
It’s been an unfortunate tail of events, but he simply has to be dropped.
Everton must focus their efforts into recruiting a replacement, allowing them to send Pickford away for good or even inspire a revival in form – although that sounds a tad optimistic.
Everton need stability and leadership from the back, and experience might not be a bad thing.
Targeting a senior figure such as Manchester United‘s Sergio Romero or even Inter’s Samir Handanovic if they’re feeling extra audacious could prove fruitful, although a move for the latter would be unlikely.
Otherwise, the Toffees could find experience in a younger player. Ajax’s Andre Onana is yet to make his big move after Chelsea opted for Edouard Mendy, meaning Everton could easily move for him in the closing stages of the transfer window or even in January.
The club have the cash and the desire to spend in order to be successful. They proved that in signing Pickford three years ago and have continued to prove it since.
Now is the time to build on good progress and secure some real consistency for the future by signing a new goalkeeper.
Whether it proves to be the end of the road for Pickford as Everton’s number one, or proves to be the making of the Englishman and spearheads a revival, the position needs strengthening before their food work is undone.