Burnley keeper Nick Pope on becoming a student of the game

Nick Pope admits he had to become a student of the game to assist his rise from being released by Ipswich Town as a youngster, to being a Premier League regular and England international.

Thursday, 11th June 2020, 12:30 pm
Nick Pope

Pope recovered from the setback of leaving his boyhood club at 16, spending three years with Bury Town and earning a move to Charlton Athletic - where he had eight loan spells before establishing himself at The Valley, and catching the eye of Burnley.

Having got his big break when Tom Heaton dislocated his shoulder in 2017, he helped the Clarets secure Europa League football, and earned a place in the England squad for the World Cup in Russia.

Pope is now firmly established as Burnley's number one, and he spoke to Sky Sports' The Football Show on how he researched the top goalkeepers to shape his own game.

Pope said: "I was encouraged from a young age to watch other goalies, especially the top, top goalies, and appreciate different bits of their game, know people's strengths and try to incorporate them into my own game.

"It's something that as a goalkeeper, it's such an individual position, it's easy to watch and just study, so I'm a little bit of a student of the game, it's nice to watch everyone and how they do it, different styles and techniques.

"I've always been a goalkeeper, from a young age, seven, eight, when I moved to Charlton I was encouraged to watch other goalkeepers, and go to live games a lot, I watched a lot of Conference games when I was on loan, League 2, because it was my aim to play at that level at the time.

"I was getting a feel of how the game flows and different things you come up against at that level as well.

"I wouldn't mind Ederson's left foot! You do appreciate how goalkeepers work, you look at their feet quite a lot, how they make saves and move their feet, and with different camera angles and replays you get to watch all sorts of things, decision making, positioning for a shot or throughball, all these different things, and you take bits you like and work out what's best for you and what you feel comfortable doing.

"It's interesting to see different styles and techniques.

"I was an Ipswich Town season ticket holder, so the first one i really watched was Richard Wright, and Kelvin Davis, who was a top, top goalkeeper.

"They were two I really watched live in the ground a lot and learned from at the time.

"Then Petr Cech was an unbelievable keeper, set all sorts of records, clean sheets, minutes without conceding - he was someone I really enjoyed watching.

"For me, goalkeepers of a similar size and build, it would be harder for me to take things from goalkeepers who are 6 ft, springy and quick.

"I'm 6ft 6, so it's easier to imagine myself and build things into my game from goalkeepers of a similar size."

Pope has also been fortunate to work with top class keepers at Burnley, learning under Heaton and Paul Robinson, and laterly working with Joe Hart and Bailey Peacock-Farrell, and he said: "I learned a massive amount from them, to learn from Tom day in, day out was great, and to watch him at a weekend, he was someone I learned a lot from, for sure.

"He's a really good person as well, and it benefitted both of us.

"Joe is a great character as well, I've learned different things from him as well, so I've been really lucky to have those two to train with every day and be around.

"They're top goalkeepers and top professionals."

Pope has been honest enough in the past to admit his kicking can improve - although boss Sean Dyche believes it is, saying earlier this season: “Nick is challenging misconceptions. Most goalkeepers now have a strong awareness of using their feet better regardless of what your style of play is.

“It’s a way the game works. And Nick uses his feet better than most people think. But he is enormous. It’s a long way to send a message from his brain down to his feet!"

On his full England debut in Kosovo, he completed 25 passes in Kosovo, playing from the back in the style Gareth Southgate wants, and Pope said: "Growing up, you have long limbs, your feet are a long way from your brain! Footwork around the goal, you're a little bit like Bambi on ice, you panic, you're a bit slower and your brain might be thinking quicker than your legs.

"They are all challenges, and you build into your shape, as you grow up and get bigger and stronger.

"You can work on your footwork and coordination and that all comes together nicely.

"The game has come on a lot, partly to goalkeepers' skill level and partly the coaches and management style has probably shifted.

"Goalkeepers a few years ago were probably all about a clean sheet, nothing else really mattered, and now you're seeing someone who can change the tempo of the whole game, start attacks and build attacks, it's definitely developed over the last few years."

When Pope first signed for Charlton in 2011, his goal was to play in the Football League, but he has massively surpassed that aim: "It was just a dream of mine growing up, everyone wants to play Premier League, for England, but I would always stay up late and watch the goals on a Saturday night and League 2 was the lowest level they'd stick on TV.

"When I signed for Charlton, I knew I'd be going on loan spells and started in the Ryman Premier, three levels below League 2, so I thought that was a realistic aim, I thought that was possible with Charlton being a League 1 and then Championship club.

"I really aspired to do that, and it was a massive goal of mine.

"You get the odd 'pinch yourself' moment, and I suppose for my friends and family who have followed me, it's crazy to be able to say i was on loan at Harrow Borough at 19, and kept growing and growing, a big upward trajectory to where I am now.

"It's crazy."