David James On Gaming As A Kid, Multi-Sport Professionals, And Liverpool's Current State
While being a former England international goalkeeper and FA Cup winner, David James is also an avid gamer. So much so, that back in 1997 while playing for Liverpool, one particularly bad performance was speculated to be down to a late night playing Tekken and Tomb Raider on PlayStation.
Alongside his gaming habits, we spoke to the legendary Premier League goalkeeper about Liverpool's current state of form, rumours, and more.
It’s been said that you used to play games a lot during your career, just wanted to know, what was your favourite game to play and do you still time with your chosen console?
It’s a good question. When consoles first came out, when I was a kid, we had the ZX Spectrum.
But later I got onto Tekken and Tekken 2 which was a great game. At Liverpool, our favourite game was Street Fighter. On away days we would occasionally take the console to the hotel and then play Street Fighter in our room. Jamie Redknapp was pretty good at it.
The headlines said my gaming habits were a major negative but when you think about games themselves, like Street Fighter, everyone would sit around in the hotel room and it became a very social thing. I thought I could extend that to the England physio room. When we were there with Sven, it was one of these magnificent things. The way the masseuse rooms were set up, we’d have one of the conference rooms with beds, and people would go in after training and sit in that room just to be around the lads playing these games.
It became such a social thing, everyone laughing and joking, everything was right and proper. I noticed how amazing this was with all the lads congregating there essentially just for the games and we had all sorts of conversations. SOCOM Navy Seals was the game they’d play.
These games became the social fabric. When the first FIFA games came out I used to play them. Super Striker was another one, I’d play it just to beat the high score. And then I got on to Final Fantasy VII, that was scary. Phil Babb told me that in Gamesmaster magazine, someone completed it in 60 hours, which was the three discs. I was on the third disc after 40 hours, so I thought I was going to break this theoretical record, but then I got called up to the England squad. I’m not much of a console gamer these days, I’m actually more into painting than playing games.
Because of how it was reported with me, I was speaking with a friend of mine Colin Jackson and he actually said his coaches wouldn’t allow him to play video games when they were competing. I was just playing games to occupy my mind. I just liked playing video games, but it was reported that I was addicted to Final Fantasy or whatever. Now what I find is that I don’t play games anymore, I need a reason to do it.
The idea of sitting on a bike machine for an hour and not doing anything doesn’t make any sense. Back then I’d be on the bike and I had a goal, for example, a certain speed or something like 45k, now I don’t have that so I started playing Candy Crush on the bike, in the end I thought why am I playing this game, it’s not productive, so because I’m a DJ, I downloaded a DJ app on my laptop so I have a reason to be on the bike.
I’ve got a PS4, I went on it the other day and bought a couple of games and it just reminded me of how things were. The CDs are more complicated than the old cartridges, you have to wait for things to load up and install these days. I loaded up my PS4 and went on the bike, and it said updating, 8 hours. I thought I’m not going to cycle that long.
My son was getting to an age where he could start mastering the games. We used to play FIFA. I’d let him go 9-0 up and then beat him 10-9, that kind of competitive dad. Until one day he beat me, I stopped playing.
You speak about the social side of gaming, people these days are using gaming to build their brand online. Do you think that a professional football player could operate as a two-sport professional?
Theoretically, it’s possible. I remember, when I was in India, I was playing a bunch of PUBG. But when I started watching the documentaries, you’ve got people playing double-digit hours per day in the game to become world champions. Like football, professionals put in double-digit hours on the training field. You have to conduct yourself properly and if you don’t live the right life ultimately you’re going to compromise your football capabilities.
A lot of football is not just physical, it’s mental, so if your mind is on something else, it’s not going to work. It’s hard to see a top international level footballer become a professional at something else because there simply isn’t enough time to dedicate to playing the game. Just knowing what it takes to be a professional footballer and seeing what it takes to become an elite esports player, I don’t think there’s enough time in the day to do both.
Have you been impressed with the impact of Luis Díaz at Liverpool? Do you think he’ll be knocking on the door for a place in the starting eleven?
Díaz is different gravy. Tottenham were interested in him first of all, so I did a little scout report on him for myself, which is something I tend to do from time to time. What Liverpool are seemingly doing is bringing in top class, younger players. They’re already in the process of replenishing what they’ve already got and they’re a top class team. In Díaz's first game against Cardiff, some of the things he was doing were brilliant and he just fitted in straight away. He will be knocking on the door for a place in any of those three attacking roles in the Liverpool starting eleven. He’s been absolutely top drawer.
Could Liverpool rue missing out on Fulham attacking midfielder Fabio Carvalho after they were unable to sign him on deadline day? Could you see the club going back in for him in the summer when his contract expires?
Yes, definitely. I think it’s public knowledge that Fulham allowed him to leave on deadline day at around 7 o’clock in the evening and, due to the transfer system the EFL have, Liverpool didn’t have the time to get the deal over the line. I don’t see any reason why he won’t be at Liverpool next season. Carvalho’s a young, prodigious talent and would suit the conveyor belt of young talent currently at Liverpool. Liverpool already have Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones on their books. Harvey Elliott…wow. At the start of the season you’d watch him play and think how many years has he been at the club because he fitted in straight away.
You’ve got the recruitment team bringing in the right players and their coaching staff getting them match-ready. I know that sounds a little bit obvious, but you can have match fit players and then players who can fit straight into the team. Those Liverpool players all seem to seamlessly fit in at the moment and everything at the club is in good shape. The league is still on for them and they’re still in all domestic competitions. They could even win the quadruple which would be unprecedented. Everything is really alive at Liverpool.
A rumour that refuses to go away is that Liverpool being interested in signing Borussia Dortmund and England midfielder Jude Bellingham. He’s been linked with Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United too. For you, which club do you believe would suit him best?
I’ve only met Jude once and it was just before the Euros. I was taken aback by how mature he is as a person. He went to Borussia Dortmund during a pandemic and I know someone currently at the club and they think so highly of him. He fits the profile of a person that would suit Liverpool. When you look at what Liverpool have got and what they’ve got coming through and how things are set up then the only question that you’d have to ask if you’re Jude is how long is Jürgen Klopp going to be there. I imagine that would have an influence when it comes to him choosing his next club and the same can be said for Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel at Manchester City and Chelsea respectively as those two sides are reportedly interested too.
Everything at Liverpool is solid and Manchester City likewise but that’s heavily dependent on Pep Guardiola being there. With Chelsea, in two years time, you can imagine that they’ll have a different manager.
Liverpool and Manchester United are reportedly interested in Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka. Firstly, can you see Arsenal selling him to a rival? Secondly, do you believe that the player would entertain either move?
With Arsenal it’s slightly frustrating, isn’t it? For a short while they looked like a side that should be in the top four and with a little bit of growth, a side that could be challenging for things. Then they follow that up with a period of ‘Who is this side that we’re looking at?’. The likes of Saka, [Emile] Smith Rowe, and [Aaron] Ramsdale highlights that they’ve got some great young players at the club.
If [Mikel] Arteta begins to show that Arsenal can be successful, then Saka will have no reason to leave. Liverpool have a different makeup to what’s there at Arsenal. If he’s happy at Arsenal and he can see what Arteta wants to do then I don’t see him leaving. He’s in an Arsenal team full of potential, but if that potential isn’t to be fulfilled in the next year or so, then I'm sure someone of Saka’s talent will desire success.
Goal.com have suggested that one of Sadio Mané’s ambitions in the future is to play in La Liga. If one of Real Madrid or Barcelona comes in for the AFCON winner, especially now that he’s in his 30s, do you believe Liverpool would be willing to let him go?
With Mané you’ve got a player who at some point isn’t going to be playing at the levels he once was. With the signing of [Luis] Díaz you can see that there’s already a replacement in reserve. If he does have desires to move abroad then sooner would be better than later for him. He’s just had success in the AFCON and he’s accomplished what he’s needed to accomplish in the past three or four years. He’s pretty much won everything and this year he can add a couple of domestic trophies towards that too. That would be a good signing-off for him. He’s a legend at Liverpool but, at the same time, Liverpool is a very well run club and they’ll already have a succession plan in place. I’m definitely not saying they’d welcome him leaving, but they’d send him off with a fond farewell if he was to move.
Manchester City fans would be delighted to hear that Pep Guardiola is reportedly close to signing a new contract with the club. Is this bad news for the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea? Do you believe City will remain in a period of dominance as long as Pep is at the helm?
From Liverpool’s perspective, you need competition. Say, for example, that Jürgen Klopp was the manager of Bayern Munich and he was winning the league comfortably most years without continuous competition then he wouldn’t get that stimulation that you’d get when you have to fully compete. The competitive nature that’s shared by many Premier League managers tells me that they’ll all be happy that Pep stays at City.
By the sounds of it, Manchester City are set to go all out to beat Real Madrid and Barcelona to the signing of Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland. If he was to come to the club, would they be unstoppable and do you personally believe he will end up at City as the bookies believe?
The Haaland link has been so easy. It’s been going on, what, 18 months? Two years?
His dad used to play for Man City, he was the best teenager in the world, it makes perfect sense.
(However), if Haaland was the missing player in a team which is top of the league and competing on multiple fronts, you would think that Pep would save some money on other signings and just go straight for him. And it just hasn’t happened. Whether Pep is in agreement, with seemingly the rest of the world, that Haaland is the answer I think is questionable at the moment.
Would Haaland make a difference? Of course. Manchester City won’t be any different to Liverpool’s recruitment, where it’s not just about available players or the price - it’s whether the player they desire is the right player for the club.
I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with Haaland but when you look at City’s recruitment, they tend to buy players which are not flashing up on everyone’s radar, and Haaland therefore becomes a complete anomaly where the whole world knows that he could go to Manchester City.
I think it’s one of the strengths of Pep that he can bring players in and they can fit seamlessly into the squad. If Pep gets Haaland then it’s because he’s the right player, and with that supply chain within that Manchester City squad, you’d imagine he’d go on from strength to strength. But as I say, it just seems a little bit too easy to say that it’s the right fit.
According to the Telegraph last week, it was claimed that Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea all have a serious interest in West Ham’s Declan Rice. This is more than likely to be Fernandinho’s last season at the club but considering they already have Rodri, do you believe your former side actually need Rice and do you believe that they could accommodate Declan and Rodri in the same starting line-up? Which destination do you believe is best suited to the England midfielder?
That is a good question. I love Declan Rice. The West Ham side of me is saying: ‘No! He’s never going. He’s going to stay at West Ham until he’s 38!’
Rodri and Fernandinho are class acts. I think Declan’s more mobile and covers a lot more ground. I could see it. Dare I say it, I could even see him going to Liverpool. He’s got everything.
There were rumours in the press last week that members of the Manchester City hierarchy believe that the £100 million signing of Jack Grealish was a blunder on behalf of the club. What have you made of Grealish’s time at Manchester City or do you believe it’s a deal that the club could eventually regret?
Put it this way, they’re both top of and favourites to win the Premier League. They’ve got a chance of winning the Champions League for the first time, and the FA Cup. If Manchester City was to win the treble, then all of a sudden Jack Grealish is part of a treble-winning side, which is what he got bought for.
But look at Pep’s rotation. Joao Cancelo was dropped against Norwich City and he’s having a fantastic season. Raheem Sterling, who scored a hattrick at the weekend, will probably drop out of a game everyone expects him to play in. What Pep has got is a squad, a team, playing at their best, and Jack Grealish is part of that. If he was a bad signing - forget the amount of money - then Manchester City’s form wouldn’t be good and he would be influencing the dressing room in a negative way. So whatever’s happening, is working, and Jack Grealish is part of that.
I think the difficulty for Jack from an observational point-of-view is that for four or five seasons at Aston Villa, he was the go-to man. He would change or influence the game as an individual far more than anyone else in that team. But he goes to a Manchester City side where there are players who can do the same thing on a regular basis. He’s not that different compared to the rest of his teammates. I think results, as always, will be the ultimate dictator of a successful signing. And as long as Jack Grealish is playing - if he wasn’t playing at all and he was on the sidelines for multiple games you would say something mightn’t be right - then he’s involved in their winning.
Philippe Coutinho has excelled since his loan move to Aston Villa from Barcelona. Do you believe that his impressive form will make it even more difficult for Villa to sign him on a permanent deal considering that other huge clubs across Europe could come into swoop?
I was looking at Coutinho versus Leeds United and there were moments in that game that were absolutely incredible. The set-up for Jacob Ramsey’s first goal was one of the best passes of the Premier League this season. It was just beautiful, effortless.
It’s one of those paradoxes - how can this player play so well, and be on loan to Aston Villa? It’s kind of like, if he’s that good, he shouldn’t be there. I say that respectfully.
The downside is that his fitness looks absolutely shot. He makes a couple of runs and then he looks tanked. The difficulty for Stevie G and Villa is that if they can sort his fitness out and get that level of play from a fitter player, then Coutinho’s price and desirability goes up. At the moment, you’re looking at Coutinho thinking, is he a 60-minute player or a 70-minute player? He’s not a 90-minute player. And Aston Villa at the moment require a 90-minute player. I think if Stevie can keep him playing well, that’s one thing, and if he can keep him happy to be playing for Aston Villa and he expresses a desire to stay with Stevie at Aston Villa then in the end, that would be - I would argue - more important.
He obviously enjoyed his time in England with Liverpool and where Stevie’s going with Aston Villa he could try to be part of a success story at the club. At first I wasn’t sure about Coutinho at Villa - all the headlines were about Stevie recruiting an old teammate - but he looks happy.
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