Everton paying for potential with Jordan Pickford, but it's a risk worth taking
Ever since Farhad Moshiri became majority shareholder in February 2016, there has been a clamour from many Everton supporters for a statement in the transfer market. Other barometers of progress seem inconsequential by comparison, with a marquee deal seemingly the best way to demonstrate a shift in ambition.
Spending up to £30 million on former Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford may not be the show of intent many expected, but there is no denying that this represents a bold and proactive move. As manager Ronald Koeman continues to reshape his squad, this transfer would tackle a problem position and could eventually make Pickford the third most-expensive goalkeeper in history.
Critics will say the fee is disproportionate for a player only establishing himself last season, but so very few transfers fit such criteria in a modern game awash with money. It is clear there is also a premium on young English players, especially those with even the smallest amount of Premier League experience. Everton are well aware of this, having prised £47.5m from Manchester City for John Stones in August 2016.
A potential £30m fee brings scrutiny and added pressure for Pickford, but such an outlay for a goalkeeper that could conceivably become the Everton No.1 for the next decade seems a reasonable price in the long-term. Aside from a brief spell with Nigel Martyn and the earlier years of Tim Howard's time on Merseyside, the legacy of Neville Southall has cast a long shadow over those tasked with replacing him in the past two decades.
Both Maarten Stekelenburg and Joel Robles enjoyed impressive and decisive performances at various stages during last season, although neither provided the consistency that separates the very best from the adequate. Even in the most assured display, an error always lurked too close to the surface.
The hope is Pickford can offer that previously absent reliability. This move will test concentration and how the 23-year-old adapts to what is likely to be a much-changed in-game environment. Whereas a state of constant high alert suited life behind a leaky Sunderland defence, periods of inactivity and a sudden game-changing save or incident could decide the outcome in Everton matches next term.
If Everton's home form continues in line with the previous campaign, Pickford could find himself a relative spectator in some Goodison outings next term. Ten minutes at the end of a match could provide more action than the previous 80. Defining moments within a game may decrease but will likely gain in importance.
Pickford is raw and still developing, but as a possible remedy to this ongoing and previously fruitless search for a goalkeeper, this could prove an excellent piece of business. There is no doubt Everton are paying for potential -- it is important to note Pickford has just 31 Premier League appearances to his name -- but this undoubted potential is worth taking a risk on.
Along with the goals of Jermain Defoe, it was the heroics of Pickford as the last line of defence keeping doomed Sunderland afloat until April last season. En route to a hard-earned nomination for PFA Young Player of the Year, Pickford averaged the most saves per game (4.7) with only Tom Heaton (141) recording more saves in total (135).
Despite his relative inexperience and the fact he began last season as an understudy, Pickford showed a willingness to command both his penalty area and the teammates charged with protecting the space in front of him. A vocal presence is another positive outweighing doubts over the fee.
In addition to an authority belying a top-flight career still in its infancy, exceptional distribution helps distinguish Pickford from the crowd. Be it out of his hands or from a dead ball, this composure and accuracy in possession is a bonus alongside the required fundamentals, particularly as the game advances and teams demand more from their goalkeepers.
While occasional errors pinpointed rough edges, Pickford mostly countered this with a knack for combating opposing teams almost singlehandedly, forming a one-man roadblock as the Sunderland defence crumbled around him. It is this shot-stopping prowess and ability to stand up to constant pressure that perhaps appeals most, as a goalkeeper capable of earning points in this manner is every bit as important as a prolific goalscorer at the opposite end of the pitch.
If this deal goes through, Pickford can easily prove his worth if progress matches current expectation and allows him to build on his first full season at Sunderland. Help Everton improve their league position or secure much-needed silverware and the £30m fee will become irrelevant.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.