Vito Mannone: Pickford might be the future, but I’m focused on keeping Sunderland up

Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone.

Vito Mannone has tipped hot prospect Jordan Pickford to have a ‘big future’ in the game.

But Sunderland’s No 1 stopper has no intention of relinquishing his place in the first team just yet and insists his focus is firmly on playing his part in helping keep the Black Cats up.

Sam Allardyce is blessed with a strong goalkeeping department, with England Under-21 keeper Pickford pushing Mannone hard following Costel Pantilimon’s departure.

The giant Romanian joined Watford on a permanent deal in January as part of Allardyce’s major overhaul of his squad.

And Mannone was the major benefactor, with the club’s former player of the year now firmly established as Allardyce’s first pick in goal.

The 27-year-old former Arsenal man says he is comfortable with strong competition for places, with veteran Steve Harper also added to the squad as cover last month.

“It’s good to make the goalkeeper work,” Mannone said.

“At any club I’ve been, there’s been capable keepers around me.

“But I’m focused on me, really.

“Jordan has got a big future, but I want to help the team and club stay in the Premier League.”

Sunderland resume their battle for survival when ex-Hammers boss Allardyce takes his side to Upton Park for the Saturday lunchtime game against West Ham United.

And Italian stopper Mannone – who has worked impressed since replacing Pantilimon between the sticks – says Sunderland are looking to maintain their momentum.

Keeping their first clean sheet in 12 games – the longest run in the Premier League – would go a long way in helping the Black Cats come back from East London with all three points.

Mannone will start in goal with 21-year-old Pickford – who starred in the Arsenal FA Cup defeat and the league defeat at Spurs – on the bench.

The Italian was crowned Sunderland Player of the Year in 2013-14, but, after the arrival of Pantilimon last season, he lost both his confidence and number one spot under ex-boss Gus Poyet.

But, after giving Mannone a chance in the final two games of 2015, Allardyce put his faith in the ex-Arsenal stopper and opted to offload Pantilimon.

Mannone made several smart saves in the 2-2 draw against Liverpool, while he also played his part in the 2-1 win over Manchester United and he is benefiting from having the full confidence of Allardyce.

Mannone recently said that he came close to leaving Sunderland in the January transfer window after the hardest 12 months of his career.

But Pantilimon’s departure has given him a fresh lease of life – and a ‘massive’ confidence boost.

“I slowly got my confidence back. I didn’t have an easy year with other managers,” said Mannone.

“But since he’s come in, he’s been direct and honest with me.”