Keegan backs Pope's World Cup inclusion
Former England manager Kevin Keegan has backed the decision to include uncapped Nick Pope in the England World Cup squad – and believes he can go on to be a future number one for his country.
The ex-Bury Town and Team Bury goalkeeper was picked for the Three Lions’ Russia 2018 squad ahead of experienced Manchester City stopper Joe Hart, despite not having played before at international level.
But Keegan, the England boss from February 1999 to October 2000, who also played 63 times for his country, thinks it is worth taking Pope, who only broke into Burnley’s side after an injury to Tom Heaton in September.
“Yes, definitely, because he is the future,” said the Liverpool and Newcastle legend, who was speaking at a sporting dinner at AFC Sudbury on Friday. “The three guys (goalkeepers) are the future.
“Everything we have seen so far, which is the level he is playing at in the Premier League in a team that is under pressure a lot, (has shown) he has been outstanding.
“He is there on merit and he has just got to wait for his opportunity now.
“It might come from an injury and he might end up playing, you never know.”
England will build up to the World Cup, which begins when they take on Tunisia on June 18, with warm-up friendlies against Nigeria at Wembley a week on Saturday (5.15pm), followed by hosting Costa Rica at Leeds United’s Elland Road on June 7 (8pm), and Keegan expects Pope to get some international football under his belt.
“I am sure Gareth will give him some minutes in the two friendly games coming up,” he said. “He will give him half a match, at least, I would have thought.
“If you look at where Burnley are and talk to them about the reasons why, he is one of the main reasons they are there. He is there on merit.
“The thing is he has no experience, so this will be a great experience, whether he plays or not, and it does look like the other two are ahead of him.”
Speaking of the decision to drop Hart, who has 75 caps and been at the last two World Cups and European Championships, in favour of Pope, he said it fitted with the squad’s ethos.
“It was a tough one for Gareth, but I think he has took the view that he is looking to the future. And with the greatest respect to Joe, he is the oldest one at 31,” he said.
“It is not that old for a goalkeeper but he has not been playing all the time and has been in and out.
“So I don’t think Joe Hart will be shocked by it.
“But Gareth has definitely gone for youth, and whether it works or not, you have always got a chance with it because if they do quite well, they will learn from that experience in four years’ time or two years’ time, with the Euros.”