It was Nigel Martyn’s misfortune to be part of a rigid England goalkeeping hierarchy. He spent a decade-long international career looking at the frame of David Seaman in front of him, unable to depose the Arsenal stalwart.
That closed shop has opened its doors under Gareth Southgate and even now, with eight days to go until the start of the World Cup, Southgate’s choice of keeper is not quite confirmed. The England coach gave his biggest hint yet by giving Jordan Pickford the No 1 shirt on Monday and tomorrow’s friendly against Costa Rica at Elland Road might finally remove all doubt.
Experience tells Martyn, the former Leeds United keeper, that if Pickford starts England’s last warm-up game he will start under Southgate in Russia. The Everton player saw out 90 minutes in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Nigeria and Martyn said clarity over Southgate’s pecking order would help the performance of either Pickford or Jack Butland when England’s World Cup campaign starts against Tunisia on June 18.
“For the players, whoever Gareth chooses, it’s quite important to know where they stand,” Martyn said. “If I was the player and I was going to be number one in Russia, I’d like to know about it now – even if the manager didn’t want to say publicly.
“His selection will tell everybody where we’re at. If Jordan Pickford starts again he’s got the jersey. You wouldn’t not start your number one in either of the two games leading up to it. You wouldn’t leave him that long without game time.
“If he gives Jack Butland the whole game then we’re back in the situation of not really knowing. But if Jordan starts, he’ll start in Russia.”
Martyn never played at a World Cup and was 33 by the time he made his first appearance at a major international tournament during Euro 2000. Pickford turned 24 this March and Butland is a year older, with only a handful of England appearances between them.
“The job of club and international football is the same,” Martyn said. “It’s the pressure that’s the difference but they looked assured. I’d expect either one of them to cope.”
Southgate, after Saturday’s friendly against Nigeria at Wembley, wanted to use Elland Road as the venue for England’s last pre-tournament match, returning to a ground where the national team last turned out in a friendly against Italy 16 years ago. Leeds stand to earn a six-figure fee for hosting the clash with Costa Rica tomorrow.
One of Martyn’s caps came during the first half against Italy in 2002, on what was then home turf for him. “It was special for me, being a Leeds player at the time,” he said.
“I got a good reception behind the goal and we played really good opposition that night. I kept a clean sheet in the first half and it was a good occasion for me.”
England have not played a home fixture outside of Wembley for more than two years but Southgate was insistent on taking England “on the road” and north of London before leaving for Russia.
“It’s important to engage with all your support,” Martyn said. “If everything’s based in London then yes, we can all buy tickets, but it’s a real hassle getting there.
“I like the idea of having a national stadium and the bigger games should always be played there. But certain games should move around. You’ve got plenty of big grounds around the country with thousands of people wanting to watch.”