JACK Butland will be a man on a mission during the final weeks of the Premier League season, aiming to produce his best form for Stoke when it matters most as he looks to nail down the England No.1 jersey for the World Cup in Russia.
Gareth Southgate has a wealth of options at his disposal in the goalkeeping department, with West Ham’s Joe Hart, Everton’s Jordan Pickford and Burnley’s Nick Pope all named in his latest squad and competing with Butland for the top job.
Butland knows his form over the next two months will go a long way to determining whether he is between the sticks for England’s first game at Russia 2018 against Tunisia in Volgograd. Southgate is prepared to give his quartet of goalkeepers a chance before settling on his number one. And Butland, who is preparing for his first major tournament after injury ruled him out of Euro 2016, is relishing the battle.
My goal is to play well for Stoke and to make sure we are in the Premier League next season,”
said the 25-year-old at the ticketing launch of the UEFA Under-17 European Championship, a tournament he starred at eight years ago which England are hosting for the first time from Friday 4 May and Sunday 20 May.
If I manage to do that then I hope England selection will follow. The battle for the number one jersey is tight. There is a great selection of players all vying for the gloves – but I am up for the battle. I take great pleasure in being in competition with those guys and hopefully I can be the one who comes out on top. I can only continue to put my hand up and put pressure on the others and I think I am playing well now.”
With just three months to go until England’s opening game against Tunisia, manager Southgate faces a selection dilemma as a host of names, including the likes of Burnley’s James Tarkowski, Swansea defender Alfie Mawson and Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook, have emerged as late contenders to book a plane ticket to Russia. However, Stoke’s shot-stopper Butland insists England are in good place as they prepare to head to the World Cup.
Competition for places is driving the standard of the squad, according to Butland and the Stoke goalkeeper is convinced England will make their mark in Russia.
Ultimately the best players will play and everyone will be ready to go when the World Cup comes,” said Butland, who was speaking to promote the UEFA European Under-17 championship, which will be held in England in May. When we come together as a squad, it doesn’t matter because we will get things right. That is where the friendlies become so important. We have a very strong selection of players. It will be a very good squad that can go out and compete to win the World Cup.”
Butland knows his form for Stoke will be crucial in the final weeks of the season as he looks to earn the No.1 goalkeeping jersey for England. The problems facing manager Stoke boss Paul Lambert in attack have been well documented, but the Scotsman deserves credit for the way he has improved Stoke’s leaky defence, which was the worst of all 92 professional clubs when he arrived in January.
Three cleansheets in seven games and just five goals conceded constitutes fine progress and England shot-stopper Butland insists they have slowly regained their confidence.
Our record is much better at the back and that shows how things have changed, now it comes down to scoring more goals and if we can do that then we have a great chance because we will win a lot more games. Although it is tough, I am really enjoying it. I am working hard to keep us out of the relegation zone and help us stay in the league so for me there is always pressure. My focus is on that and on that only – I know my club form is important.
Butland’s England career began at development level and he joined forces with the likes of Chelsea’s Ross Barkley and Watford’s Nathaniel Chalobah to win the U17 European Championship crown in Lichtenstein in 2010. This year’s tournament is being staged across 10 match days at six venues – Rotherham United, Chesterfield, Burton Albion, Walsall, St. George’s Park and Loughborough University. And Butland claims tasting success at youth level with England is still one of the highlights of his career to date.
We managed to win the European Championships eight years ago and it has been a massive part of my career,” added Butland. It is one of my favourite moments in football. Many of that squad have progressed into the Premier League, Championship and the England senior squad since. It was an incredible experience and memory I will never forget and something I look back on and am incredibly proud of. We had a great set of talent that year and we do this year too heading into the U17 European Championships that will be held in England during May.
“For anyone to get to play in that tournament, it will be very special. To play in a major tournament, no matter what age, means it is a chance to show yourself. Lots of players from the winning side I was part of have gone on and been successful.”
See the stars of tomorrow in the UEFA European Under-17 Championship, 4-20 May 2018. Visit www.TheFA.com/U17Euro for tickets and further information