Mission World Cup

Published : Jan 14, 2010 00:00 IST

Goalkeeper David James must focus on regaining full fitness to ensure he remains Fabio Capello’s first choice for the upcoming World Cup finals in South Africa, writes Richard Brown.

For a goalkeeper, any nickname that involves the word ‘calamity’ is far from desirable, but that is the tag that David James has had to endure for much of his 20-year career. And, while the 39-year-old is Portsmouth’s and England’s current number one, life has not always been smooth sailing for the man dubbed ‘Calamity James’ following a series of high-profile blunders.

There has been the computer games excuse, the Reliant Robin punishment and the questionable array of hairstyles to ensure there has never been a dull moment since the former Watford trainee first came into reckoning way back in August 1990.

It was an inauspicious start, but one that provided a platform to international recognition, with England Under-21s handing over 10 caps in total before 1992 saw James make a GBP1 million move to England’s biggest force at the time — Liverpool.

He was signed by Graeme Souness as a long-term replacement for the Kop favourite Bruce Grobbelaar, and alongside the infamous ‘Spice Boys’ — Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Redknapp — he certainly made a name for himself, although not always for the right reasons.

During a particularly fraught run of howlers, the inconsistent James blamed his erratic performances on an addiction to computer games, which also coincided with rumours that the ‘Spice Boys’ were spending more time at celebrity parties than on the training ground.

Despite this, Glenn Hoddle handed James his first senior international cap in 1997 and he came up with a decent performance — complete with a clean sheet — in a 2-0 friendly win over Mexico.

However, his career on Merseyside was in decline by then and, following the acquisition of Brad Friedel, the England ’keeper found his name further down the Anfield pecking order and in 1999, made a move to fellow EPL side, Aston Villa.

James worked hard to leave the costly errors in Liverpool and was successful at Villa Park, though he struggled to receive greater international recognition, having to play second fiddle behind Arsenal’s David Seaman.

And that was a trend that would follow the ’keeper until 2002 when the Gunners man retired leading to promotion to England’s number one for James as recognition for a run of consistent performances then with West Ham.

In 2004, he made a move back up north with Manchester City, but it would prove to be a difficult time both on and off the pitch. James split with his wife in 2006 which left the goalkeeper looking for a move back south, and it was Harry Redknapp who stumped up GBP1.2 million to take the then 36-year-old to Portsmouth. It has been a move that has benefited both parties.

James has maintained a high standard of performances, drawing plaudits for some impressive rearguard displays aided notably by the likes of Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin as part of a formidable defence that secured the English FA Cup in 2008.

It was at his current club that James was handed the tag of ‘worst trainer’, and was duly punished by being made to eschew the traditional footballer’s favourites in cars and instead sit at the wheel of a Robin Reliant much to his team-mates’ delight.

These days, James has become more renowned for his charitable work and environmental concerns than for outlandish hairstyles, and has publicly called on his high-profile associates to set an example for young fans.

“Things do change as you grow up,” he said. “I’m in a position where people listen and I talk about issues that are close to my heart and I hope others will do too.”

For now and the immediate future, James must focus on regaining full fitness and knocking Asmir Begovic out of the Portsmouth team to ensure he remains Fabio Capello’s first choice for the upcoming World Cup finals in South Africa.

While, in his absence, James’ rivals have hardly forced Capello’s hand with the likes of Ben Foster and Robert Green both struggling for form, he knows full well that the Italian will prioritise fitness highly when naming his squad of 23 to go to South Africa.

“My plan is to be fit initially for Portsmouth to make sure we do what counts to avoid a relegation battle there. If that’s successful then it should be good enough to give me a chance of being in the England squad and playing in the World Cup finals.”

It would surely be a final major championship for James, who has played more English Premier League games than anyone else in an illustrious and never dull career spanning two decades. And if he can make a full and quick return to full fitness, his crowning glory could yet come in South Africa as Capello’s men prepare for a prolonged World Cup run.

James was married to Tanya, but the couple split in 2006.

He still has the Reliant Robin, while he has also swapped his high-performance BMW for a Chrysler.

FACTFILEName: David JamesPosition: GoalkeeperClub: PortsmouthD.O.B: 01/08/1970England caps: 49England goals: 0England debut: v Mexico 29/03/1997Moment to remember

Winning the English FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008 remains James’ greatest club honour.

Moment to forget

One of his most infamous errors in an extensive list came in 2004 to help Austria secure a memorable 2-2 draw against England. Andreas Ivanschitz’s lacklustre strike should have been easy to deal with, but James somehow misjudged the effort and conspired to dive over the ball and hand the minnow an equaliser.

© PA Sport, 2010, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.

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