Nick Pope embraces goalkeeper rivalry at Burnley after year of highs and lows
Involvement in England's World Cup squad and Burnley's impressive 2017/18 season was followed by a lengthy spell on the sidelines
“It's been a funny old year,” said Nick Pope wryly. If anything, that was an understatement. An unknown understudy became a surprise success in the Premier League’s great overachievers, a squad member in his country’s best World Cup for 28 years. Then he dislocated a shoulder while Joe Hart’s arrival left Burnley with three England international goalkeepers.
“Really high with finishing seventh last season and going to the World Cup and then starting this season about three days I was written off for five months of the season,” reflected Pope.
He returned for Burnley on Saturday; his previous first-team appearance in England was his international debut against Costa Rica. His teammates then included Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli; his opponents in his comeback were League One Barnsley in the FA Cup.
That outing in a World Cup warm-up was his solitary appearance under Gareth Southgate, but the England manager provided a boost to his morale during a long lay-off.
“After I got injured and it had all calmed down after a couple of weeks, he rang me and had a great conversation so that was a nice lift at a difficult time,” Pope said. “It was great to hear from him and throughout the World Cup his man-management was top drawer. It was really nice to get that call.
"Fingers crossed [I'm still under consideration], you have to play games to stay in his thoughts and that's what I have to look to do from now until the end of the season.”
That presents certain difficulties, given the competition for places. “Popey still needs time,” said Burnley manager Sean Dyche, indicating the 26-year-old is unlikely to face Fulham on Saturday.
He has fielded three goalkeepers in four games, dropping Hart for Tom Heaton as the club captain helped Burnley to wins over West Ham United and Huddersfield Town. Dyche has created a difficult situation for himself by accumulating and creating England internationals.
“Not many people expect that at Burnley or anywhere in the Premier League really,” Pope said. “That's the situation we've got and it's up to us to decide who gets the shirt. We've all got to be pushing each other every day. There's great banter between the three of us.”
Pope said there is mutual respect. He emerged from obscurity when Heaton was sidelined and said: “Heats had the same injury [in September 2017] so it's been great to lean on him for advice and experience and everything he went through.”
Dyche suggested the trio are realistic about the unusual situation. “They all know,” he said. “They all look at each other and say ‘he’s decent, I’m decent, he’s decent’ and crack on.”
And for Pope, cracking on is distinctly preferable to suffering from a dislocation.
Updated: January 7, 2019 07:53 AM