- David James speaks exclusively to SportsMail ahead of England’s Euro 2020 opener
- James knows the pain of being ruled out of the tournament after his Euro 2000 snub
- Now 50, James feels the England team has the right mix of youth and talent
- Jude Bellingham is his pick for the Three Lions to move on to and stardom on the big stage
- Get the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here.
When it comes to the England set-up, few players have as much experience as David James. The veteran former goalkeeper has well and truly seen it all.
The Hertfordshire-born stomper spent his career in and out of the national team, first representing three Lions at U21 level and then through several reserve teams; Surprised at dealing with the heartache of rejection and being called back deep in the darkness of his career.
Before England kick-start their Euro 2020 campaign against familiar foe Croatia, there is no better person than James to ask how to prepare for the tournament. And, in some cases, how to deal with the dreaded phone call from the manager, the sad news that you haven’t got a seat on the plane.
sportsmail On a remote call due to the restrictions of modern-day pandemic life, he sat down to chat with James from his family home. The iconic former England star, now 50, has a lot to say about his nation’s prospects.
After a long, winding career in football, David James is ready to talk about everything England
James caught up with SportsMail away from his Hertfordshire home, due to pandemic life restrictions, to talk England’s chances at Euro 2020
However, more pertinently, he likely has a team like Gareth Southgate at his disposal, showing all the hallmarks of elite level competitors.
Unlike the 2006 World Cup – in which former manager Sven-Göran Eriksson stunned the nation by selecting 17-year-old Theo Walcott, despite never making a national appearance, or joining the Premier League – England played young brought to the party. Already playing at the highest level.
When this comparison is made to Jacob, he generously nods in agreement. He has met Jude Bellingham before, and has already left a lasting impression.
‘The comparison between Jude Bellingham and Theo Walcott is perfect,’ says James.
Sven-Göran Eriksson surprised the nation by choosing Theo Walcott at the 2006 World Cup
Jude Bellingham, Like Walcott in 2006, Turns 17 — Yet He Already Looks the Real Deal
‘The difference is that Bellingham, playing in the later stages of the Champions League, have won a trophy with Dortmund, as has Jadon Sancho, aged 21.
‘His whole story is fantastic, the fact that he’ [Bellingham] Moves to Germany during a pandemic, leaves his family behind and still performs.
‘I see this youthfulness of him, but maturity at the same time, it’s quite paradoxical in a sense – his first line to me was “I thought you were older!”. But you can actually see him giving time to the game.’
Dettol up play-on campaign and fan protection
Fans will be lucky enough to make a comeback for Euro 2020, although the need to exercise caution is more important than ever.
James says: ‘Ritualistic behavior is something I’ve had over the course of my career, I still have.
‘When I go out, for example to the supermarket, I’ll put’ dettol On my hands before I go there. I won’t touch my face or my mask until I get in the car and I’m ready to go.
‘I recently went to the final of the League Cup with the fans and it was a different side that I never felt I would notice. It sounds silly but when there are fans out there it’s like wow, that’s what we missed.
‘But it’s so important, and even with protocol at Wembley, that fans go through part of a ritual and behave like that with Dettol on their hands and making sure their Cleanliness is fine, all we can do is enjoy the game in a safe, healthy and clean environment.’
Within the past few weeks, Southgate had to sabotage some dreams by reducing their 33-man squad to 26, and making some nasty calls in the process. James knows best what it feels like.
Being placed on the Euro 2000 provisional list only to miss was a kick in the teeth, although James admits he had prior warning. What he struggled to get his head around, however, was the controversial way in which he was not picked on the side of a teammate.
James says, ‘In my situation I knew I wasn’t going to get into it.
‘I don’t know what Gareth said to players like James Ward-Prause or Ben White, whether he had a conversation with them before announcing the team and gave them an understanding of their role.
‘I found out a week before the FA Cup final and it was, I think, bitter-sweet – which is probably too cliche but it’s not like “Wow, well I’m not going – what have I done, or didn’t do? , to get me on the plane” because if you know you’re not going the only thing you can expect is probably an injury, which you wouldn’t want anyway.
‘You don’t want to be there by default, it’s not like you won’t take a chance once given.
‘Then you knock, the manager comes over and tells you you’re not leaving and you’re thinking “so why not?”
‘Then it was explained to me that Richard Wright had been promised six months ago and I was like “really? OK well fine, all the best.”
‘It was hard to take because it meant that no matter what I did for Aston Villa, I wasn’t going to leave for the next six months.’
James revealed that Richard Wright (left) had been ‘promised’ a Euro 2000 spot, which meant he had to miss out on selection regardless of his form with Aston Villa.
Yet James’ story is one of resilience and, perhaps, one of the most unlikely of turn-ups. When asked whether soccer players are particularly caught up in looking ahead and finding out how many international tournaments they can realistically miss, James offers an alternative view that it’s hard to predict when it’s just around the corner. What is this.
‘Euro is taking place in 2006, even after 2004’ [World Cup] Not playing on the team and age 35, you’re thinking “there aren’t many left”… Steve McLaren wasn’t going to pick me up despite everything I did at Portsmouth and then oddly enough, Just when you think your England career is completely over – you find an Italian in Fabio Capello who says “Come on, be my No. 1 goalkeeper” and then I play in the World Cup at 39. ‘
The call to play in the South Africa World Cup saw James as the oldest player of the tournament and the oldest footballer to make his World Cup debut.
At 39, James became the oldest player to make his World Cup debut as he reclaimed the No. 1 jersey
It’s a nice and quirky statistic that he could keep forever, but James is the first to accept England’s standard of goalkeeping, which thankfully is now skyrocketing. During his playing career, this was not always the case.
‘What do we have now’ [Jordan] Pickford and Sam Johnstone, they proved themselves on the second night against Romania, and Dean Henderson, we have three very capable goalkeepers who will not let their country down.
‘We were dropped when we went to West Ham in the 2003–4 season, I was England’s No. 1 qualifying game as a championship goalkeeper at the age of 33.
‘It’s the kind of football that shouldn’t have been. England must have one of the best goalkeepers in Europe to represent the team.
‘I still like to think that I was playing the championship, not dismissing myself in that sense, but the fact that for some reason that competition was not interesting.’
Jordan Pickford, Sam Johnstone and Dean Henderson (LR) are competing for the No. 1 spot