Former Clarets midfielder Joey Barton believes that the Clarets possess two big candidates for the England goalkeeping role ahead of the World Cup in Russia.
With Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate expected to name his squad for friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy imminently, Burnley’s 2015/16 player of the year is adamant both Nick Pope and Tom Heaton are in contention.
While Heaton’s return to fitness will pose Turf Moor chief Sean Dyche with a selection headache, Southgate has an even bigger decision on his hands, with several keepers battling it out for the three final spots on the plane.
Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Joe Hart are the current favourites with bookmakers to make the final 23-man squad with Heaton, who has three caps for his country, and Pope on the fringes.
Betfred have Pope at 7/2 to make the 23 – and 20/1 that Southgate makes a shock decision to actually start him in England’s Group G opener against Tunisia in the Volgograd Arena on June 18th.
Heaton, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in September, is 14/1 to get the nod to start the campaign.
“The really interesting thing for Burnley is that Jack Butland isn’t setting the world alight, Joe Hart isn’t playing at West Ham and you start looking at it and thinking ‘who is going to be England’s number one goalkeeper in Russia?’,” said Barton. “There are lots of spots that are already cemented, with Harry Kane, Dele Alli etc, but the one that is definitely up for grabs is that England goalkeeper’s jersey.
“If somebody has a strong end to the season and finishes it with momentum, they could well be the England goalkeeper in the World Cup.
“Obviously Burnley have now got two live candidates for that. Heats was in and around it, and, another one, Pickford is not having a phenomenal season.”
Since making his Premier League debut against Crystal Palace, a game which the Clarets went on to win 1-0, Pope has gone on to make 25 starts in the top flight and he has established himself as one of the best performing goalkeepers at this level.
The former Charlton Athletic stopper has 10 clean sheets to his name, he’s made 85 saves, aided his defence with 13 punches and boasts the highest amount of high claims in the division with 41.
“With Popey, we saw him in training last year, so we knew how good he was, but Heats is a top class goalkeeper, so you questioned whether he would get the opportunity,” Barton said.
“There’s a difference between being a very good player in training and being a very good keeper under pressure in front of the millions of people that watch the Premier League.
“Nick has done incredibly well, and some of the saves he has made are truly outstanding. Tom, for the first time in his Burnley career, has got a real challenge for his jersey and I think he’ll respond to that.
“I was talking to Dyche and I told him what a great problem that is to have. If you’ve got two top class players vying for every position, you’ve got a very exciting problem.
“They are both really good keepers, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that evolves. Without a doubt, that’s good for Burnley Football Club.”