Tom Heaton is more interested in Jordan Pickford’s outstanding international performances than his club troubles, although the Burnley goalkeeper’s determination to usurp him as England number one is clear.
Having gone to Euro 2016 and established himself as part of the Three Lions squad, Heaton’s World Cup hopes were derailed at the start of the 2017-18 season by a nasty shoulder injury.
The 32-year-old watched on as Burnley understudy Nick Pope broke into the England set-up and capped a fine season by heading to Russia, with club competition then increased by Joe Hart’s summer arrival.
It meant that the former Manchester United youth prospect had to bide his time on the sidelines, although his impressive return to the fold at Turf Moor brought an international recall for this month’s Euro 2020 qualifiers.
“Brilliant,” Heaton said of his return. “Obviously it was a frustrating first part of the season.
“To get back in the team and be back here, it’s sort of a nice end to a difficult journey, really.
“It was tough. You get injured. It was a longer-term injury, I probably didn’t know the details of it at the time, didn’t realise the scale of it, to be honest.
“The first part of it is OK, you get your rehabilitation in. Towards the end when you’re mind sort of thinks that you’re ready but physically you’re not quite there, that can be a touch frustrating.
“And probably the hardest bit of all is being back fit and then not playing.
“It’s difficult but you put the work in, the graft, the opportunity comes and thankfully I’m back here today.”
ENGLAND | Watch as James Tarkowski, Tom Heaton, and Dwight McNeil train with @England at St. George’s Park. 🙌
— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) March 19, 2019
Heaton’s return to the England squad comes with arguably the first calls for him to be England’s number one, thanks to Pickford’s recent wobbles.
The Everton goalkeeper’s penalty shootout heroics against Colombia capped a fine all-round tournament, but the 25-year-old’s form has been questionable with the Toffees.
“I think he’s been outstanding wearing the England shirt,” Heaton said. “I thought he was incredible in the summer in the World Cup.
“I think his performances were really top drawer and it’s never an easy thing to do, putting the England goalkeeper jersey on, and I think he did it superbly well.
“We’re here, we compete for the place. Of course, everyone wants to play. Try and get your things right and see what the manager decides.”
Put to Heaton that Pickford’s drop in form could offer him an opportunity, he said: “I don’t tend to look at it like that, to be honest. I have to say.
“I think, for me, it’s about myself, what I do, what each individual does.
“Jordan’s performances have been outstanding for England and that’s where it’s at.
“I try not to look at anyone else, as ever the thinking is on myself and we’ll see what happens.
“We’ve got a few days training. You obviously try and perform, and try to impress the manager, and see what decision he makes.”
That focus on the greater good was clear when Heaton spoke about going from England’s standby list last summer to watching the World Cup as a fan.
“Well, in fairness, I think being involved in it in any sort of form was brilliant, having not played a lot football over the nine months I was out,” Heaton said.
“To be still considered, still have two weeks here in the preparation was great for me personally, actually. It was a real lift after the end of a tough season.
“I was delighted to be there. Obviously, it was a difficult moment waving them off and wishing them all the best of course, but on a personal note slightly tough.
“But overall I think it was a real positive experience for me to be involved in it, especially after a difficult time.
“And I enjoyed it and I was very thankful that the manager got me involved in that.”