'My best' - England star set for key Euro 2024 role has paid Preston North End huge credit

Jordan PickfordJordan Pickford
Jordan Pickford | Getty Images
England’s number one spent time on loan at PNE and Bradford City earlier in his career

One England star will always be grateful for his time spent at Preston North End.

That, of course, is goalkeeper Jordan Pickford - who is gearing up to be number one at another major tournament for the Three Lions. The shot-stopper, now 30, has been a colossal presence between the sticks for manager Gareth Southgate.

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Pickford has spent the last eight-and-a-half seasons in the Premier League, with Everton snapping him up from Sunderland in the summer of 2017. The goalkeeper has gone on to have the career many at Deepdale predicted, during his 2015 loan spell from the Black Cats.

Preston needed a new shot-stopper after Sam Johnstone headed back to Manchester United, following promotion from League One. Simon Grayson brought in Pickford and it soon became clear PNE had found a good one.

He ended up being recalled by Sunderland on January 1, having kept a remarkable 14 clean sheets in 17 Championship games. Pickford had been on loan at Bradford City and Carlisle United prior to his PNE move - the top flight and international stage came calling after his last Lilywhites outing.

Several members of the England squad spent vital time in the English Football League, earlier on in their careers. Pickford was one of those and a couple of years ago, the all-action shot-stopper highlighted just how beneficial his time at Deepdale was.

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"I finished off in the EFL with Preston North End," said Pickford. "Going to Preston was the final bridge I needed to cross, in the Championship. That was my best loan move - a 21-year-old, going and playing in the Championship and keeping loads of clean sheets. That got me ready for the Premier League.

“The 'keeper coaches were brilliant and all the staff were brilliant. But not just that, you are going as a young lad from Sunderland and playing in men's football. You've got to grab it with both hands and I felt like I did, but also learning a lot from experienced players and managers and staff.

“That was a big learning curve for me and myself, to get better as a person and as a footballer. I think one of my best spells was when I was at Preston. I'm not 100 per cent sure, but I might've equalled the record for clean sheets - I think it was a seven game clean sheet spell. Alan Kelly, my 'keeper coach at Preston, is now my coach at Everton.

“The EFL is a great environment for young player. To play for Sunderland, Everton and England was an amazing feeling - but i wouldn't have been able to do it if I hadn't gone on loan to all those clubs. All three were great loan spells for me, those clubs were amazing."

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