When Tom Heaton crashed to the floor with a dislocated shoulder just a month into the season, you could sense a collective fear around Turf Moor. Was young goalkeeper Nick Pope really ready to don the gloves after never playing higher than Championship level for Charlton Athletic?
Then 25-years old, Pope immediately set about proving the doubters wrong as he kept Crystal Palace at bay to record a clean sheet on his Premier League debut...the start of an incredible season that resulted in an England call-up and scooping top accolades at the Burnley end of season awards ceremony.
Shot-stopper, dominant in the air and hard to beat
Pope's stock continued to rise as he pulled off a string of impressive performances to provide solidity for an organised Burnley defence. During October and November, he kept three successive clean sheets before repeating the feat again in December.
The statistics also underpin a remarkable campaign for the shot-stopper. Only David De Gea, Ederson, Thibaut Courtois and Hugo Lloris boast more clean sheets this season, whilst Pope is sixth on the total number of saves list. Yet his rank as second for save percentages, behind De Gea, shows just how important he has been to Burnley this season.
His ability to thwart attackers has been well documented but his ability to command the penalty area has been particularly impressive. No Premier League goalkeeper even comes close to his 52 high claims with Lukasz Fabianski second on 42.
Youth or experience?
Yet Pope's place on the plane to Russia is still a scenario to be considered by Gareth Southgate. Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland look set to be on their way to the World Cup, despite the latter being relegated with Stoke City, but the third goalkeeping position looks to be a straight shoot-out between Pope and Joe Hart.
The 31-year old has 75 England appearances to his name and was recently the subject of an article for the BBC by former England Ladies goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis. She argued that Hart's experience would be invaluable to the squad and would trump the form of Pope.
"Since 1934, only four out of the 435 teams to compete at World Cup finals have used all three of their keepers...instead of looking for someone who might shine if they get a chance, Southgate will be looking for the right character and someone he can trust to support his team-mates and be a positive influence on the whole squad."
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Another role for Hart?
When that article was written in late April, "only two goalkeepers from the 125 in Europe's top five leagues have a worst save percentage than Hart...Nick Pope has the second-best save percentage in the Premier League this season."
Just as alarming is the fact that Hart has made more errors leading to goals than all but three players in the Premier League. The West Ham goalkeeper has totalled four compared to zero from Pope.
Whilst Brown-Finnis has a point about Southgate "looking for the right character", particularly in a youthful squad lacking in major tournament experience, such an aspect should be covered by the non-playing staff. Hart's form this season does not merit a place in the 23-man squad but if his personality is rated that highly then there is no reason he cannot play an interim role with the backroom staff.
Prepare for the future
England should be looking forwards rather than backwards. Rather than using Hart in a motivational role with the playing squad, they should be looking at providing Pope with the experience that will support the development of his career. Yes, he is unlikely to play but being around international players in a World Cup set-up can only put Pope in good stead for the future.
It is a thought shared by Twitter followers with 84% voting on our recent poll that he should be part of the squad and half of those suggesting he should be the number one.
Over to you Gareth...