A former England international, Liverpool’s goalkeeper for seven years, owner of the highest record of Premier League appearances until May 2011, holds the record for the most clean sheets with 173, a philanthropist, a League Cup as well as an FA Cup winner and now a player as well as an assistant manager in Iceland. You’d be forgiven for thinking that would keep anyone busy, but not David James, as now he’s coming back to our screens as BT Sport’s newest co-analyst.
He has played for a whole collection of teams including Watford, Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham United, Manchester City, Portsmouth, Bristol City and Bournemouth. He has also had 53 appearances for the Three Lions from 1997 to the last World Cup in South Africa.
I met the former Manchester City player at BT Sport’s offices in Stratford where he greeted me with a smile and a very firm handshake, the strength you’d expect from an experienced goalkeeper. The room was pretty noisy as some of his colleagues, including Michael Owen, were in the middle of a rather loud conversation, but James would have none of it and asked them in a strict tone to keep it down, to which everyone obliged. The former member of the Liverpool ‘Spice Boys’ looked more serious now, with a healthy sense of humour nevertheless, but no more bleach blonde, no more dreadlocks and no more Superman comb-over, his frizzy hair and knowledge does just fine.
I ask him what his new role is and initially, it seemed like I’d caught him a bit off guard as he wasn’t sure about his title description until my interview fixer jumped in and told me that he is a co-analyst. He is not very fond of the term football pundit as he thinks it is a cliché but he is looking to bring the best information to the public based solely on facts and not his personal opinion. The Daily Mail called him the ‘stat-man’, which surprised him, however he does see the importance of the numbers games when it comes to football.
“For many years covering football matches has been pretty much the same, with ex-players and the presenter sat around the table giving their thoughts or opinions on stuff. I’m more, I like to think, sort of technically analytical than just subjectively opinionated, in a sense that things happen for a reason.”
BT Sport have also come up with a very interesting method of showing the key moments of the match to the audience with the use of a LED interactive pitch. That is where the veterans, such as James and Steve McManaman, enter the Tron-like field and show the best moments of the game themselves without the use of footage.
“There are other shows which have all the gadgetry and I think it’s not real. We can actually get in there; we can talk and physically show people. You can actually do the movements, move people and go through those processes.
“For me, as a coach, I’m thinking about the younger players who are trying to learn the game. If you just show pictures and don’t actually demonstrate it then it’s just words and they’re going to try and make up the missing bits.
“Unfortunately I’ve got too many goals in that net so far and I may have to have a word with the production staff.”
The 43-year-old is still active with Icelandic team IBV and his love for the game is evidently still strong. But how can anyone juggle the demands of a football team with that of BT Sport? James is under a rather tight schedule as he literally leaves the studio on Saturday after the show and flies to Iceland to make the Sunday fixture with his squad. The club seems fine with it, but the former West Ham keeper admitted that the combination may be tricky.
Being an analyst however is not his ultimate goal as he tells me that he would really like to become a manager. “When I first went out to Iceland to play for IBV my intention wasn’t just to play, it was a long way to go just to play football.
“I am currently doing my UEFA license and it was an opportunity as an assistant manager to get involved in the coaching side of things and by doing that to help the goalkeepers they had.”
The aspiring coach has got his UEFA A license and says that even though he played professional football for 25 years he still learnt more as he explored another side to the game.
There is a difference in analysing football and actually getting on the field to play the game so I ask him about how he would compare the two tasks. His high experience in professional football has given him a lot of confidence between the sticks, but he admits that BT Sport is something new for him.
“I’ve done commentary or pundit work, if you like. It’s been much more orchestrated. The BT Sport sort of ethos is more relaxed and free in a sense that the studio is spacious and the conversations are a lot more interesting so it feels a lot more natural, which is good.”
England are playing Scotland at Wembley tonight and the former international explained he was ready for the match, as he has already done his homework, but he did have interesting things to say about the team and the young goalkeepers.
He calls the difference between the Premier League and the England national team a paradox and believes that because England has the best football and the most money they attract players from around the world. He adds that the coaching staff are concentrating more on the first team and less on the youth players who could be moulded as excellent footballers for the future one day.
I ask him who his favourite goalkeeper is after Joe Hart and he says “Joe Hart”, then I repeat the question and he insists on the Manchester City keeper. The 43-year-old believes that young keepers are experiencing the same problem as all other youth players that are ignored by clubs. He argues that the only way that another English keeper could overtake Hart’s place is through a consistent starting place and performance at Premier League level, which is very important for him as that could also push and benefit the 26-year-old goalkeeper.
“English clubs have had goalkeeping coaches for 15-20 years and the problem, I’d argue, is that the goalkeeping coach just works with the first team goalkeeper rather than looking at the development of young keepers through that club.
“If every club had a goalkeeper from 15 years ago up until five or six years ago then English football would be awash with English goalkeepers. So somewhere, the system is failing.”
I ask him who does he think will win the league this year and after a few seconds of concentration he says that Chelsea are the favourite. He reckons we will see a different team this year as the returning Jose Mourinho is very good at maintaining control of the dressing room, something his successors struggled to build, and in addition to the quality of the team the Portuguese manager has at his disposal.
The frizzy-haired analyst told me that West Brom could offer a few surprises this season, even without last season’s star Romelu Lukaku, but won’t be able to hit the European spots. However, he can see Liverpool nabbing fourth place thus bringing some extra competition to the North London rivalry from last season. As for champions Manchester United, the former Liverpool keeper thinks they might end up in third place behind aforementioned Chelsea and fierce local rivals Manchester City.
My twenty minute mark was up but I still tried to squeeze in some extra questions for the goalkeeper/analyst – asking him if he’s excited about the upcoming Premier League. His face immediately contorts into a giant smile and says: “Absolutely!” He is set to go to Anfield on Saturday and meet Simon Mignolet and Stoke’s Asmir Begovic; jokingly adding that he’ll ask them about English goalkeepers.
The IBV goalkeeper and I shook hands again, that grip was still strong, and I knew that I would definitely be hearing about him more in the future as his career develops. Could I be writing about his achievements as a manager in a few years? Only time can tell…
David James is co-analyst on BT Sport’s coverage of 38 exclusively live Barclays Premier League Football matches. BT Sport is free with BT broadband, to find out more visit www.btsport.com