There was nothing more Nick Pope could have done to impress his coach over the last two England games. Unfortunately, for his individual aspirations, he had nothing to do at all.
England did not concede a single shot on target across a pair of ultra-comfortable victories against San Marino and Albania. For all bar one person involved with the national team, this complete dominance was cause for mild celebration. Unfortunately, for a goalkeeper desperate to overthrow his country’s regular number one, consecutive clean sheets have done him few favours. Poland visit Wembley on Wednesday – a potentially dangerous qualifying fixture for the Three Lions. Despite the loss of Robert Lewandowski through injury this serves as a potentially crucial opportunity for Pope.
Watching Albanian striker Myrto Uzuni’s 20-yard effort safely over the crossbar was the closest Nick Pope came to meaningful action across 180 of the easiest minutes of his career. The Burnley stopper commanded his box well and seemed to communicate convincingly, but the relaxed nature of his two evening’s work mean Southgate will avoid any noticeable pressure to replace his trusted keeper of choice, Jordan Pickford.
Pickford’s patchy club form over recent seasons has long had pundits and supporters alike questioning his status at international level. It will certainly not have escaped Gareth Southgate’s attention that a manager of Carlo Ancelloti’s stature has seen fit to replace his regular keeper with on loan Robin Olsen for two separate short spells this season. In fact, Olsen’s inability to grasp his own opportunities may have cost Nick Pope as much as the Everton backup himself. Should Pickford had found himself benched for the long term, the choice to persist with him as England’s main man would have become significantly more controversial.
As it is, Pope has done as much as he realistically can to persuade the often cautious Southgate that it is time for a change. He just hasn’t received the assistance needed from elsewhere. A few eye-catching saves whilst wearing the Three Lions, or Pickford’s long-term benching through form rather than injury, may have seen him confirmed as the front runner to start between the sticks when the Euros roll around. A rumoured move to one of the ‘Big Six’ would likely strengthen his chances in the future as there is no doubt staking a claim for an England spot is difficult when lining up for Burnley.
For now, despite having never conceded an England goal across five appearances, Nick Pope likely remains marginally behind Pickford in the England pecking order. He has, at least, firmly cemented his position ahead of Dean Henderson as the next man up. Pope has done himself no harm whatsoever by proving himself comfortable in an England jersey, but, unless he produces a masterclass to deny Poland on Wednesday, his England fate will likely continue to lie out of his safe hands.