"I don't see any point in Pickford playing in any of these matches at all. You need back-up goalkeepers who have caps," says Paul Merson, who makes the case for Gareth Southgate building experience within his England squad in the run-up to 2022 World Cup in Qatar
Tuesday 22 March 2022 16:45, UK
Paul Merson says playing Jordan Pickford in friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast will serve no purpose to Gareth Southgate and England's preparations for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Pickford remains England's No 1 goalkeeper heading into the first international break of the calendar year after main rival, Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale, was forced to withdraw from Southgate's latest squad due to a hip injury.
With back-up goalkeepers Nick Pope and Sam Johnstone having earned just 10 England caps between them, Pickford, capped 42 times, is expected to feature in the Wembley double-header.
But Merson is adamant he should not, citing Pickford's club struggles with relegation-threatened Everton, which he believes could jeopardise the 28-year-old's place on the plane to Qatar 2022 and could leave Southgate needing more experience in reserve.
"It's a shame Aaron Ramsdale is injured, I thought he would have had an opportunity in these friendlies to prove himself, but injury has put paid to that," Merson told Sky Sports.
"In terms of England's goalkeeper for the World Cup, a lot depends on what happens between now and the end of the season. If Everton go and get relegation, it's going to be hard for Jordan Pickford to retain his position as England's No 1.
"How many Championship players have played at a World Cup for England? You've only got to look at Kalvin Phillips, who went straight into the England squad once Leeds got promoted, to see how difficult it is for Championship players to get into the England squad."
Merson continued: "I thought Ramsdale would have played in these games because you don't want a situation where the World Cup comes around and Gareth may have to turn to a goalkeeper who has just one cap.
"You can play in the Premier League but international football in a different game, one where you might not have to do anything for long periods but have to deliver in the crucial moments.
"I don't see any point in Pickford playing in any of these matches at all. You don't want a situation like what happened with Scott Carson repeating itself.
"Carson was a good goalkeeper, but he went into that massive Euro 2008 qualifier with no real experience. That cost England a place at a tournament, and it wasn't fair on the player.
"You need back-up goalkeepers who have caps, and these friendlies present Southgate with the opportunity to do just that."
Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were the two high-profile omissions from Southgate's latest England, a decision Merson only half agreed with, given the encouraging recent form from Sancho for Manchester United.
But Merson believes the decision will serve as a catalyst to both players, who may have taken their selection for granted, and has no doubt they will both be in the picture when the World Cup squad is announced.
"I was quite shocked Southgate didn't pick Jadon Sancho," he added. "I've seen him play a lot worse and still be included in the England squad, a lot worse.
"You hope this serves as a kick up the backside to players who may have thought their England spot was guaranteed, irrespective of their club form. Gareth might say he wants to look at someone else and indicate that Sancho may not be a shoo-in.
"Every England player will want to be in the squad come September or October, now doesn't make much difference. If you're going to have a dip in form, it's wise to have it now, not a month before the World Cup and you end up missing the trip to Qatar, that will be a real kick in the teeth.
"Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford will be right up there when Southgate does come to picking his World Cup squad, 100 per cent."
Merson believes Southgate could have a good understanding of his intended World Cup squad as soon as this summer, adding: "The World Cup will come around and before we know it, it'll be next season and the tournament will be upon us.
"Southgate is looking at his options now, and think that by June, barring a couple of positions, he will know what his World Cup squad is. He will not be waiting for next season to start and making last-minute decisions."
While the week before the international break was dominated by who didn't make Southgate's squad, match week has been focused on those who did, namely first senior call-ups for Crystal Palace duo Marc Guehi and Tyrick Mitchell, and Southampton's Kyle Walker-Peters.
"Gareth is quite good like that; he picks players who are doing well," Merson added.
"I'm really pleased to see the two lads from Palace, Guehi and Mitchell, and the lad from Southampton, Walker-Peters, get called up. They thoroughly deserve it.
"Up and coming full-backs were probably thinking they would never play for England, such was the competition in those positions where we are blessed, especially at right-back. But it's funny how things work in football."