David James on EA FC Team of the Year, the Premier League title race & Liverpool's next manager

David James on EA FC Team of the Year, the Premier League title race & Liverpool's next manager
Image via Shutterstock

Written by 

Lloyd Coombes

Published 

20th Feb 2024 09:38

A Premier League icon and longtime England 'keeper, David James needs no introduction for most football fans after more than 800 career appearances for clubs like Liverpool, Manchester City, Aston Villa, West Ham, and Portsmouth - and 53 England caps, too.

We sat down with the man himself to talk about the EA FC 24 Team of the Year, Liverpool's title chances, Jurgen Klopp's successor, and Ivan Toney's future.

The EA Sports FC team has announced its team of the year, which you can find here. Which of those players do you believe shouldn’t be in that team and which individuals do you believe should replace them?

“I believe Lionel Messi is one of the greatest footballers of all time and he won the World Cup in 2022 and he deserved a lot of merit and reward for those achievements, but I can’t understand how he was in the team of the year when you consider that he’s played in a dozen or so games for Inter Miami, and I believe a few of them were in the cup and not in the MLS, as well as a handful of games for Argentina. 

“I don’t know how Messi warrants getting in that team ahead of someone like Phil Foden, who did everything that Rodri did except scoring a goal in the Champions League final. He was heavily influential in a team that won the treble, so the decision to put Messi in that team is a strange one for me. Despite how wonderful Messi’s career has been, being in a team of the year without playing a whole season doesn’t make sense.”

Do you believe Liverpool are now in control of the Premier League title race or do you think their current injury troubles could derail their title bid over the next few weeks?

“I’m not surprised that Manchester City dropped points against Chelsea on Saturday. The thing about Chelsea is that they play well against the best teams. In their first game of this season, they took points off Liverpool and then they didn’t perform against teams that they were expected to beat. So in a strange sort of way, I wasn’t surprised when I saw their result against Manchester City. 

“Manchester City dropping points however doesn’t mean that Liverpool are in total control of the situation because City have the capabilities and the squad to be able to turn results around. What’s fortunate for Liverpool at the moment, and I say this even though it looks as if Diogo Jota has suffered a serious injury, is that Mo Salah has come back to scoring ways for Liverpool upon his return from AFCON and his injury and Jota was scoring the goals that kept their title bid on track. Providing that Mo doesn’t get injured again, then I believe Liverpool can suffer that sort of loss because every club involved in the title race is going to have injuries along the way, so ultimately I believe that Liverpool are still in a good position and I believe it’s a race between them and Manchester City.

“Even though Arsenal are banging in goals for fun at the moment, aside from Liverpool I don’t believe they’ve beaten anyone else of substance yet. And when they beat Liverpool earlier in the month, I believe it was a foul on Virgil van Dijk for the second goal and the red card for Ibrahima Konaté made that game a bit farcical in the end. I believe it’s a two-horse race between Liverpool and Manchester City, with Arsenal making a bit of noise on the outside.”

Who’s your ideal choice to replace Jürgen Klopp as Liverpool manager once he departs Anfield for good?

“I’ve already said that Edin Terzić, who I know personally, should be in the mix because of his Borussia Dortmund links, which is obviously similar to Jürgen Klopp. The thing we have to understand with Liverpool is that Jürgen has shown how to handle the media in a way that doesn’t sensationalise anything. He’s so down to earth, honest and he doesn’t glorify anything, so the qualities he continues to display are qualities that a lot of other managers don’t have. I believe that Jürgen has a special skill. For Liverpool, finding somebody who’s good with a football team is one thing, but finding someone as skilled as Jürgen with the media is another thing.  

“This season for Xabi Alonso has gone ridiculously well for him and he couldn’t have wished for a better position. With Bayern Munich imploding at present, it looks like he’s going to guide Bayer Leverkusen to their first Bundesliga title in their history. He’s doing amazing things at the moment, but he’s only been a first-team manager for 18 months and he’s not got the longevity that Jürgen Klopp had before moving to Liverpool. Tactically he may be fantastic, but Liverpool may be unsure about whether he can deal with the media side of the job.

“I think that Liverpool would have had a succession plan for Jürgen, that would have started two or three years ago. As surprising as Jurgen’s announcement was for us all, I believe Liverpool would have already had something in place and whether Xabi was in that conversation from a couple of years ago is difficult to say.

“I believe Edin Terzić is a good option and I really like him as a person, but I’m really sure that Liverpool would have a list of three or four candidates. I know that Ange Postecoglou is a name that’s being mooted at the moment, but there could also be another potential replacement out there that nobody’s talking about.”

If Xabi Alonso fails to win the Bundesliga this season, considering the position that Bayer Leverkusen are in at the moment, then do you believe he would become a less attractive proposition for Liverpool?

“When Xabi took over at Bayer Leverkusen last year, the team wasn’t in a great position and that’s shown that he can deal with adversity. We’re talking about a club with low expectations and now they’re in this unbeaten form under Xabi’s stewardship and they’re absolutely flying, so if Xabi can continue this until the end of the season and win the Bundesliga, then the question would be, what will he do when he’s not winning with a team that’s expected to win?

“If he was to lose grip on the Bundesliga title now, and the manner in which they lose it, then that would be more informative to Liverpool or any other potential suitor because I think there are two or three clubs that he could go to, including Bayern Munich as he used to play for them. The reason why this would be more informative and impactful than actually winning the Bundesliga is because Bayern Munich seem to be falling apart at the moment and it would be a tough stretch for Bayer Leverkusen to not win it. 

“I think winning it would be fantastic, but I believe losing it would still be informative in a positive way depending on how he lost it and how he dealt with that loss because being manager of Liverpool is not just about winning trophies, it’s about the manager being able to deal with adversity, success and the media, which are all the things that come with having to manage one of the biggest clubs in the world.” 

The Daily Telegraph have stated that Liverpool could be interested in appointing Ange Postecoglou this summer, but Tottenham are said to be sure that the Australian manager won’t leave for Anfield if Liverpool come calling. Regardless of whether an appointment is realistic or not, do you believe Ange could be a success at your former club?

“Yes, because of the way he’s able to handle the media. Success is the main thing, but people get carried away with success because you see the signs of a truly great manager when they’re able to deal with adversity and when you look at Jürgen Klopp’s tenure at Liverpool, there’s never been a moment where Jürgen has caused Liverpool problems. There have been situations which Jürgen has dealt with in the most masterful way. You only have to look across the East Lancs at Manchester to see big clubs being unable to manage problematic situations very well.

“Ange is such a good talker and the Tottenham fans I know have told me that they’ve enjoyed their performances this season tremendously and Premier League fans have also enjoyed what they’ve seen from this Tottenham side under Ange Postecoglou. If it wasn’t for the injuries they’ve suffered this season, then Tottenham could have been in the argument to win the Premier League title. 

“With a better squad and fitter players, which is ironic considering the injuries Liverpool have at present, then of course Ange could do a good job at Anfield and most importantly, he can deal with the media.”

How important is it for the next manager of Liverpool that Trent-Alexander Arnold commits to a new long-term deal before the end of the summer? The England international currently has less than 18 months left on his existing contract at Anfield. 

“I love Trent. When you look at his career, he came from nowhere to playing in European Cup finals whilst increasing his level of performance. He then went through a period of being criticised by the media but has come through that and has been back to his best this season and is arguably the first name on Liverpool’s teamsheet, so I think it’s very important that he does stay because he’s gone through the tough times and hopefully he wants to be part of a very successful time again for Liverpool. 

“For Trent at the moment, he can’t commit to anything long-term because he’s unaware of which manager is going to come to Anfield to replace Jürgen Klopp. People may say if you love the club then it doesn’t matter who’s there, but if you’re as footballing intelligent as Trent is, then you will be aware that some managers who are being linked with the job at the moment get their teams to play in a certain way that doesn’t suit him and therefore he could end up suffering if he signs a contract now. 

“The sooner that Liverpool finds a replacement for Jürgen Klopp, then the sooner that these contract issues with Trent and Mo Salah can be dealt with.”

According to Football Insider, Liverpool, as well as Arsenal, are said to be interested in Wolves’ Pedro Neto and his club is said to value him between £50-60 million. Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want Liverpool to make a move for Neto this summer?

“The problem with any player linked with Liverpool currently is that it’s all dependent on which manager will be taking charge at Anfield next season. You believe that someone like Neto playing alongside Diogo Jota would be a wonderful combination wouldn’t you?  However, the problem that Liverpool would have would be figuring out which player Neto would come in for in their starting eleven? Without a manager in place to guarantee that Neto is the player that they want, it means that it’s difficult to comment on speculation like this at the moment.”

Liverpool are said to be interested in potential free transfers for Fulham defender Tosin Adarabioyo and Bournemouth centre-back Lloyd Kelly. Do you believe either player is good enough to play for one of the Premier League’s best teams and do you believe both players would struggle for game time at Anfield?

“Bournemouth had a very good run earlier on in the season and because they were doing so well, you would have thought that some of their players could do well in a top team. However, I think the issue regarding Tosin Adarabioyo and Lloyd Kelly potentially coming in, is who are they going to replace in Liverpool’s team? When it comes to getting game time at Liverpool, then I think that Tosin could get more time out of the pair of them because he’s got plenty of experience, but realistically I think both of them would struggle. 

“I believe they would struggle for weekly appearances because of the strength that Liverpool have in their centre-back department. You have Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konaté and then you have players like Joe Gomez and Jarell Quansah who could come in and fill the void when needed. 

“I’m not saying that either Tosin and Lloyd can’t eventually be good enough, but I believe the difficulty for them will be that they will struggle to get the opportunities to prove that they can be good enough. That’s the issue.”

Leeds United’s Archie Gray, who’s just 17 years of age, is said to be of interest to Liverpool. He’s been a regular starter for his club this season, so do you believe it would be in Archie’s best interests to remain at Elland Road beyond the summer and do you believe that would ultimately be better for his development as a player?

“I don’t know a massive amount about him, but the fact that he’s shown that he can play regularly in the Championship is very impressive and I think every division is difficult in its own way but the Championship is very demanding, especially for teams up there fighting for promotion. 

“For a young player to be able to show the ability and consistency in order to be in that side is impressive. Leeds are a big team, let’s be fair, and the expectation at Leeds, especially the Championship, is that they shouldn’t be there and should be in the Premier League. So in many ways, he’s learning what it would be like to play at Liverpool because the expectation at Liverpool is the same, but on a different level of course.

“Would it be better for him in the long-term to stay at Leeds United next season? I’m not sure. There have been a number of young players at Liverpool over the last few years that have been given a chance to play under Jürgen Klopp. You look at Conor Bradley and Jarell Quansah, who weren’t as young as 17, who have had opportunities to prove themselves. 

“The new manager may come in and say that we’ll buy him and leave him at Leeds irrespective of whether they get promoted or not, and bring him in a couple of years down the line, which is similar to what they’ve got planned for Fábio Carvalho. However, at the moment it looks as if things aren’t going as well as Liverpool planned for Fábio.

“Archie is still so young, so it could be a smart signing for Liverpool in the long run and it could be a good opportunity for the player himself.”

Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur or Manchester United, who do you believe out of the trio is the favourite to clinch fourth place in the Premier League this season?

“I have to be biased and say Aston Villa. I think Ollie Watkins is proving himself again this season and it’s been a remarkable campaign for him. That being said, I think with the amount of goals and the lack of clean sheets we’re seeing in the Premier League at the moment, there seems to be a lot of players on big numbers when it comes to goalscoring. 

“I think Aston Villa have had their wobble. Tottenham are playing better football this season under Ange Postecoglou, however, what’s interesting with Ange is that he’s being linked with the Liverpool job already and that could be disturbing for some of the Spurs players. I think Aston Villa are in a better position with Unai Emery for that reason. 

“I’m not convinced by Manchester United, and I’m not just saying that because I’m an ex-Liverpool player, because I’m not seeing proper team performances from them despite their run of wins. Unfortunately, Luton keep losing at home and that hurts me as a supporter of the club. They keep losing at home by the odd goal and are always in matches until the very last minute. Ironically, I think the only team that has gone to Kenilworth Road this season and properly beaten them is Sheffield United the other week. Even Arsenal needed a last-minute goal to beat them earlier on in the season. 

“Manchester United still seem to struggle in games for the best part of 45 minutes and that’s something that you shouldn’t expect from a side that has ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League. I think there’s still work for Erik Ten Hag to do. I just think that Aston Villa have had their blip and I believe it will be a fight between themselves and Arsenal for third and fourth place.”

Do you want David Moyes to still be at West Ham United next season?

“Yes. What he’s done in recent memory carries a lot of weight. Using Jürgen Klopp as an example, we saw that he announced that he was going to leave Liverpool at the end of the season, but if he hadn’t done what he’s done over the years for them, then he would have been out of the door a long time ago rather than it being his choice. 

“With David, when we’re talking about Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, West Ham started to be part of that discussion too, but after a spell of bad form they have fallen away. I think it depends on how they get on in Europe and I know it’s a big stretch, but if they can win the Europa League then David should be given another year.

“I don’t want anyone to get the sack, but a few of the results have been difficult for West Ham fans to take recently, to the point where around half the fans left the stadium at half-time during the home fixture against Arsenal. You don’t react to one performance but when it starts to become more regular then you have to be concerned. 

“Last season, Europa Conference success meant that there wasn’t a problem going forward. There’s a lot of points that can be made in West Ham’s next three Premier League matches, so let’s see how those three games go and I’m hoping he can turn things around.”

Who do you believe has been the best player in the Premier League this season?

“I think Dominic Solanke has been amazing. Phil Foden has been doing very well this season, but Manchester City aren’t top of the table so they’ve not been the best team like many expected them to be. Erling Haaland has scored the most goals again so far, so maybe he should be the player of the year, but with Dominic Solanke, I think he’s had an incredible season. 

“As much as I don’t think Arsenal are going to win the Premier League title this year, I think Martin Ødegaard has been fantastic. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai have also been fantastic, so I think we’ve been blessed with some really decent performances this season, but if I had to go for one person then I would go with Dominik Szoboszlai.”

Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Newcastle United are all linked with a summer move for Brentford’s Ivan Toney. Which club do you believe Ivan should leave Brentford for this summer as it’s looking extremely likely that he will be on the move?

“The first person that came to mind when I heard this question was Harry Kane. I’ve seen Brentford play a couple of times in the last month since Ivan’s return and it’s obvious he would score goals for whoever he plays for, but is he going to help you win titles? 

“I mention Harry Kane because a lot of people have been talking about him in the past week because he will always score goals, he’ll win the award for the top scorer in the Bundesliga and he might even break the Bundesliga scoring record for goals in a season, but Bayern Munich will probably not win the title.

“Manchester United have Rasmus Højlund at the moment and he’s been in fantastic form, so does Ivan Toney compliment him up top or does he replace him? I’m not sure how that would work, so at the moment, whilst Manchester United are showing an interest, I believe they would struggle to find a position for Ivan Toney in their starting eleven. 

“Given Callum Wilson’s injury record this season, and I hope he can get himself fit to be in the conversation to go to Euro 2024 in the summer, but if there’s an ongoing issue for him there, then I think there’s a natural fit for Ivan Toney at Newcastle when you consider the way that Eddie Howe likes his side to play.

“I think Arsenal is a very interesting, and possibly tempting, prospect for Ivan. Where I think Arsenal fail in games is when they don’t have the physical presence at times against certain teams. To bring in someone like Ivan Toney would be beneficial for them. Another thing with Arsenal is that they do a lot of rotation, so it’s not like he would be expected to play every week. If I had to choose where Ivan should go in the summer, then I would say Arsenal or Newcastle United, but it all depends on whether these teams are looking to win titles or just have a top goalscorer.”

Lloyd is GGRecon's Editor-in-Chief, having previously worked at Dexerto and Gfinity, and occasionally appears in The Daily Star newspaper. A big fan of loot-based games including Destiny 2 and Diablo 4, when he's not working you'll find him at the gym or trying to play Magic The Gathering.

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