Former England 'keeper David James on EASFC, Liverpool transfers & Premier League title race
With over 800 club career appearances, the sight of David James between the sticks is a familiar one to an entire generation of football fans.
Appearing for the likes of Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham, Manchester City and Portsmouth in a career spanning multiple decades, James also earned 53 England caps.
The first edition of EA Sports FC will be released in September, the first game of the franchise for EA Sports since dropping the FIFA name. Are you intrigued to see how the game differs from others in the previous FIFA series?
“I am. I’ve got to say, I’ve seen the promotions for it and there are a couple of different options with the classic game and the Ultimate edition, with the cover including some of the legends of football on it. The way they’re explaining some of the new technologies in the game almost tempts me to go out and buy a copy myself. It really does look good.
“They’ve got this physical body capture of sorts that gives you the individual realism of players. I do remember when I used to play FIFA and one of my concerns was that all the players kind of ran in the style but according to what I’ve seen, they’re talking about individualising players' very own running styles. I think it’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays out. As good as Erling Haaland is in real life, I wonder how easy he will be to play with if players have to learn all his individual traits and factors like that.
“The only reason I don’t play FIFA anymore is because I’m no longer on the games. It would be nice if I was ever brought into the game as one of the legends because even my son stopped playing it because I wasn’t on it. It was kind of like a family boycott. I’m not sure what the parameters are to get onto the game as a legend but with EA’s coverage of the Premier League, I’d like to think I’ve done nearly enough to get consideration. If I was to be on EA Sports FC in the future, then I’d be definitely buying a new console, a couple of the games and maybe a couple for my kids as well. That’s my moan over.”
Which player do you believe should be the highest rated in the first EA Sports FC game?
“You have the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Erling Haaland and all the legendary players in the game.
"Pelé played over a thousand games, so his fitness was never an issue and he was one the quickest and fittest players of his era. There’s every chance he could replicate that in the modern day with current training techniques, so I’m going to have to say that Pelé should be the highest-rated player in the new game.”
Onto the football, and Liverpool have completed the £15.4 million signing of Japanese international Wataru Endo from Stuttgart. What are your thoughts on this signing? Do you believe it’s an underwhelming move or are you excited by it?
“He’s 30 years old and I believe in his last three seasons he’s played over 30 games in each. Fitness is certainly not an issue for him. He’s obviously got a lot of experience playing in the Bundesliga and Liverpool have lost a lot of midfielders this summer, but many of them weren’t first-team starters. With Endo, what you’ve got is an experienced professional in a young squad and he’s going to enhance their development on and off the field.
“30 is not old, and that’s why he’s been handed a four-year deal, but when you’ve got the likes of [Alexis] Mac Allister, [Harvey Elliott] and [Curtis] Jones in your squad, then that blend of experience will be used a lot more during the course of games as the season progresses, so I believe it’s a great signing.
“I think there was a lot of concern over the players that didn’t sign for Liverpool this summer and there was almost a trend of talking about what Liverpool didn’t get, without having to really explain why they didn’t get them. I think Endo is a positive signing alongside Mac Allister and [Dominik] Szoboszlai.”
Liverpool have been linked once again with a move for Manchester City’s Kalvin Phillips. Would this be a good signing for your former club?
“I believe Kalvin Phillips is a terrific player. Initially, the idea of Declan Rice going to Manchester City made perfect sense when you consider how well he and Kalvin play together for England, but obviously that didn’t come to fruition. There’s absolutely no reason why Kalvin Phillips wouldn’t fit into that Liverpool side.
“I’m not greatly concerned by his injury record because I seemed to remember him being on the bench most of the time for Manchester City last season. There’s no reason to be worried by his lack of gametime either as that suggests that these players are doing nothing when they’re not playing. I can assure you that all players are still as fit as needed and Manchester City have started off flying this season despite only having three pre-season games, so I don’t believe Kalvin will need a lot of time to adjust if he was to make the move to Liverpool.
“I watched Cheick Doucouré, who’s also linked with a move to Liverpool, against Arsenal on Monday night and what I found really interesting is that I couldn’t really remember Arsenal going through the middle of midfield during the game and that was largely due to Doucouré’s level of performance in midfield for Crystal Palace. When you consider what Liverpool need in that defensive midfield role, then Doucouré could be a good fit.
“Speaking of midfielders that they should consider a move for, I accessed a football data site and looked at a number of the midfielders Liverpool were linked with and compared their stats, but it was actually Martín Zubimendi of Real Sociedad who came up with the best statistics for that position, which is a player I don’t believe Liverpool are linked with. With Liverpool losing a lot of players this summer, I feel confident in saying that they still need to replenish their squad and somebody like Zubimendi, who’s 24 years old, is unlikely to cost too much and has all the qualities you need in that position.”
Liverpool are also rumoured to be going head-to-head with bitter rivals Manchester United for the signature of Bayern Munich midfielder Ryan Gravenberch. Would you love to see your former club beat Manchester United to the signing of the Dutch international?
“Liverpool already have a lot of young players in their squad. Jürgen [Klopp] could let him go to Manchester United, it won’t be a problem this year. I don’t believe that Liverpool need to stock up on players for the future at the moment because they already have plenty of young players at their disposal already. Liverpool need to make sure that they get things right and get themselves back in the Champions League for next season.”
How disappointed were you to see Liverpool’s ambitious move for Moisés Caicedo fall through? And do you believe Roméo Lavia has made the wrong decision moving to Chelsea over Liverpool?
“I would say that the Chelsea transfer model is unique compared to any other club in the Premier League and possibly in world football as a whole. I don’t believe that any player should be criticised for opting for an eight-year contract over a four or five-year contract because we’ve already seen this year that a couple of summer signings have come in and got serious injuries immediately, and some of them could impact careers later down the line, so Chelsea are always going to have the upper hand when they’re handing out longer contracts than any other club.
“I don’t believe it’s a case of Liverpool losing these deals, but a case of Chelsea winning these deals instead. Liverpool have done what they believe is right for themselves and I don’t see them losing out if it’s a level playing field. Unless Chelsea’s approach to long-term contracts is proven to work, then I can’t see any other clubs trying to match them on that front.”
Do you believe Liverpool is still one of the most attractive teams for players to join in world football or do you believe they’ve become less attractive over the last year or two? Do you believe Liverpool are a weaker outfit this season than last?
“To play for Liverpool is a massive honour and achievement. It’s also beneficial for a player's marketability when you consider the global fanbase that the club possesses. There’s always going to be a chance for Liverpool players to earn more money through your association with the club and sometimes there are opportunities you get that you wouldn’t receive if you were at a different club. The same goes for Manchester United with their fanbase.
“One thing that Liverpool do need to correct this season is that they need to contest for major trophies again and next season they need to contest to win the Champions League again as players join Liverpool to win trophies. If you’re constantly in a battle to win trophies, then that’s always going to attract players to your club. It puts even more pressure on the current Liverpool squad to get back into the Champions League at the first time of asking.
“The number of players seems to dictate whether a squad is either stronger or weaker from the previous season. You look at the treble-winning Manchester City team of last season and I believe they used the least amount of players out of every other club in the Premier League and they were still able to win three trophies. With Liverpool, they’ve brought the right signings into the areas that needed strengthening and they also have Luis Díaz back fit after he missed a large part of last season through injury. His absence was detrimental to Liverpool’s season, so with the availability of the players they have at the moment, I believe they’re in a better place this season. I will be at the Newcastle United game this weekend to watch Liverpool take them apart. I think they’re in a good place.”
Now moving on to goalkeepers, we first want to ask you about Arsenal’s loan signing of David Raya from Brentford. Do you believe he will ultimately become Arsenal’s number one as the season progresses? Who do you believe is the better goalkeeper, Raya or Aaron Ramsdale?
“I’ve been in a similar situation to this when Brad Friedel joined Liverpool. Brad needed a special exemption because he was a US goalkeeper and he ended up taking my place. Sometimes you need to consider why a club is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to sign an additional goalkeeper. People have been speaking about David Raya’s qualities for a long time and the fact that he’s Spanish as well, it’s very easy to make this association with Mikel Arteta. I believe that Aaron Ramsdale is going to have to perform at an even higher level to be equal with Raya at the moment. I believe Aaron is a fantastic goalkeeper, but it’s surprising to think that David Raya would give up the chance to play for Brentford in the Premier League if he thought he was going to sit on Arsenal’s bench for a season before heading back to Brentford next season. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
“I’m not sure where Aaron Ramsdale isn’t ticking the boxes for Mikel Arteta because his distribution should be as good, if not better, than David Raya’s because he is capable of doing so. Going back to the experience I had when Brad Friedel joined Liverpool, bringing in a goalkeeper like David Raya is going to put a lot of strain on the relationships in the goalkeeper unit and with the goalkeeping coaches they have. It will be interesting to see how this move pans out.”
What are your initial thoughts on Manchester United’s new goalkeeper André Onana?
“I’m a massive fan. When Manchester United signed him, I was quietly buzzing and that’s not me saying that I want Manchester United to win anything. Having followed him closely last season in the Champions League, I believed this was a goalkeeper that should be playing for one of the top teams in the Premier League and with plenty of question marks over David de Gea last season, it just made perfect sense for Manchester United to bring André Onana in.
“The penalty incident against Wolves doesn’t really matter because he did what he did and he didn’t get punished for it. That’s not his fault. We talk about the David Raya and Aaron Ramsdale situation at Arsenal and Onana is better than both of them. He should, and could be, Manchester United’s outlet with his distribution. It wouldn’t even surprise me if he gets an assist this season. It almost looks as if Manchester United weren’t ready for his aerial dominance, coming out and winning balls.
“I believe André Onana will arguably make Manchester United a better team. If they don’t, then it has never been the goalkeeper’s issue, it’s an issue with Manchester United’s outfield. If Manchester United don’t improve this season, then Erik ten Hag is going to have to identify what the issue is with his team up the field to find out why they’re not challenging for honours. Onana’s a great acquisition and I’m looking forward to seeing some great performances from him this season.”
Which club do you believe will win the Premier League title this season and which other five clubs do you believe will make up the remainder of the top six?
“I believe Manchester City will win the Premier League title this season. I genuinely believe that City’s main objective last season was not to win the Premier League, but it was to win the Champions League instead. They’ve already started this season differently to the way they normally do and there’s a lot more direct play involved. Last season, they predominantly played with the ball on the floor and had a lot more possession and time with the ball. They’re happy to go more direct now and I’m just seeing a different approach to the start to the season. I believe they will be the league winners this season.
“Arsenal I believe will finish second again. I think they’re capable of getting 90 points this season and Manchester City will have to win the league with a massive points total. Third and fourth is a difficult decision. I’m going to say Liverpool in third because I believe they can bounce back from the off season they had last year and I’ve seen enough evidence already in the new season to suggest that they will get it right.
“I will say Newcastle United in fourth and Chelsea in fifth. I spoke to Mauricio Pochettino at Soccer Aid and asked him why it had taken him a year to get a job. I obviously didn’t ask him as bluntly as that, but he told me he was offered loads of opportunities from many different clubs, but he didn’t believe that any of them could challenge for trophies. He said that when Chelsea came in for him, he saw a club that had a chance of winning silverware and I thought that was a bold statement for him to make. This is a guy who wants to win and they’ve done a lot of business again in the transfer window. He’s bringing in the players that he wants and players that he believes he can be successful with. It seems to me that if everything marries up right, that Chelsea will be up there. I know I’ve chosen them to finish fifth, but I believe that next season Chelsea could potentially be the team to look out for in regards to the Premier League title race. I think Chelsea have every chance of winning something this season with Pochettino.
“In sixth I’m going to go with Manchester United, but I don’t believe that the likes of Aston Villa and Brighton are going to let up this season. I know Villa got smashed in the first game, but some of [Alexander] Isak’s finishing was a joke. I simply believe that Manchester United will finish sixth because Onana will add some improvement to them and when you say improvement, you’d automatically assume that I would place them in the top three, but there are better arguments for other teams to finish above them. Aston Villa could finish seventh, possibly behind Manchester United on goal difference.”
Which Premier League club do you believe has had the best transfer window so far and which signing do you believe will be the transfer of the season?
“So far, I’m going to say that Chelsea have had the best transfer window, simply because I’m a big admirer of Mauricio Pochettino and he’s done a lot of business. I’m suggesting that he’s brought in the right players to help him and the club challenge for trophies. Having said that, Manchester City have lost players and brought in Mateo Kovačić as one of the replacements and I believe that a player like Kovačić is something that Manchester City haven’t had before. I think he’s going to add a new dimension to what Manchester City has as a team and in typical Pep Guardiola style, it’s not mass purchases, it’s just very astute purchases. Ultimately, I believe Chelsea have had the best window because the new manager has gone in there and told the club what he needs and they’ve made some very exciting purchases.
“The player I’m looking out for this season, and this is not my signing of the season as it happened in January, but I’m very intrigued to see how Mykhailo Mudryk does this year. I’m just hoping that this guy can have a stellar season.
“Regarding which player I believe will be the signing of the season, I’m going to go for André Onana. I studied him last season and I just believe that he could completely transform Manchester United, even though I’ve backed them to finish sixth in the Premier League this season. I don’t believe their issues lie with the goalkeeper, it’s an outfield problem, so I believe that Onana will enhance Manchester United’s team. In a very paradoxical way, his improvement will highlight the failings that Manchester United have outfield.”