David James On Clubs' Esports Activity, England's Current Form, and More
A few things are certain in life, night and day, rain, and saves from David James. The former England and Liverpool shot-stopper now works as a pundit following the world's footballing activity. We spoke with the 52-year-old about England's current form, Premier League clubs, FIFA activity, and more.
With FIFA 23 out this week, plenty of Premier League clubs are bringing esports to the forefront of their brand by advertising their FIFA activities. Do you see the crossover for fans of clubs to their esports teams?
I do. I think we're at a moment in time where we've got a new leap in technology, where some amazing things are going to happen and esports is going to be at the forefront of that. There's a lot of questions at the moment regarding the way that football is for the wider public and the question marks regarding how many people actually engage with a football match. You have one side potentially arguing that the game should change to cater for this new viewing experience.
With the metaverse and esports, there's an opportunity to create an environment where people will start following the esports team along with the physical team. There's an incredible future ahead, and it would be foolish of clubs to not invest in that side of the entertainment.
Could you see Premier League clubs FIFA matches on TV, alongside the real action, in the future?
The idea of showing esports matches on TV is possible. There would certainly be people who'd want to watch it. The idea of broadcasters investing in that space makes perfect sense. I do see broadcasters getting behind it. There's going to be many talented esport players out there and you're going to have the best esports players in the world available for fans to watch. If broadcasters aren't behind that, then they're missing out on something.
One of the biggest absentees from the current England squad is Manchester United's Jadon Sancho. In your opinion, should he have been in the squad? And would he be in your World Cup squad?
The makeup of the squad off the field is as equally as important as the makeup of the starting XI at any given time. I'm not sure why Marcus Rashford wasn't included in the recent squad, but Jadon Sancho has had opportunities before when he's been in good form, but for some reason it's not worked out for him with England. It makes you wonder if there's something more to it than just his playing style.
He's shown on occasions already this season that he's a terrifically talented player. Should he be in the squad? I think he should if he can continue his form. The difficulty for Gareth Southgate now is that there aren't any more opportunities before the World Cup to judge players who've been left out of the squad. Jadon's certainly good enough to be in that squad, that's for sure. Unfortunately though, I don't believe Gareth will pick him.
Harry Maguire continues to get selected for England duty, despite falling down the pecking order at Manchester United. Do you believe it's unfair to the centre-backs that aren't getting selected, but playing regularly, that Maguire continues to get selected? Can they seriously play him at the World Cup if he's lacking match fitness?
I don't agree with this argument about match fitness and match minutes being an issue. With the right sports science team behind you, then you'll be fit. Harry Maguire is a big character in that England squad, and sometimes, the best players don't necessarily make the best squad. Harry is an integral part of that squad and was a major reason behind why England got to the final of the European Championships. Providing that he's fit, he'd be in England's starting line-up and he'll play well. He plays for Manchester United, so he already plays for a club that requires a lot of pressure to play for. I'm a Harry Maguire fan.
I feel for Harry Maguire on the basis where he doesn't seem like he can do a lot right in people's eyes. I've been in that position myself where it's almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy, where people wait for you to make a mistake and do something that's not quite right, and that's what they were expecting. He's a talented player that's playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. He's not starting for his club at the moment, but I feel that Erik ten Hag is almost re-introducing him to the side rather than being dropped. I believe he will get more gametime before the World Cup. I'm looking forward to seeing him lead England to victory, even if it's only in a defensive capacity.
Jude Bellingham continues to be linked with a host of Premier League clubs, notably Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United. Real Madrid are also interested. Out of those five, where do you believe he will go? Liverpool is said to be heading the queue. Also, Borussia Dortmund have reportedly slapped a £130 million price tag on him. Do you believe he warrants such an expensive price tag?
I believe he warrants that price tag. He's 19 years old, he's played over 100 games and has 16 International caps. I think he's mustard. Having met him and spoken to him, and also taking into account that I know people who work with him, he's the most grounded 19-year-old in football. He's a highly, highly, talented footballer that understands the game so well. What more do you want from a midfielder? £130 million isn't a ridiculous price tag at all.
He went to Germany during covid, which was a very difficult time, and he's embraced it. It's proven to be the right move because his game has improved. I think if Real Madrid came calling, as much as I'd love to see him in the Premier League, I'm sure that would be a move that he'd greatly accept. I'm sure Dortmund will be upset that they've lost three of their best players in a two-year period. The world's Jude Bellingham’s oyster.
Liverpool is said to have had a long-standing interest in Aston Villa's Jacob Ramsey. Do you believe he's the real deal? Do you believe he's destined to play for one of the Premier League giants?
I think Jacob's got a very bright future, and despite the fact that Aston Villa has started the season a bit slower than they'd have liked, once Villa pick up their form again, which I'm sure they will, as long as Jacob is a part of that, then I'm sure many top teams would like to snap him up. He's only 21 years old, so I'm sure it won’t be too long before he's snapped up, but as a former Aston Villa player myself, I hope he stays.
Liverpool are currently linked with Brighton's Moisés Caicedo, who has impressed in the early parts of the new season. He was recently quoted saying "It'd be a dream to be in the best teams in the world and succeed there." How impressed with him have you been and does he fit the criteria of a player who can fit into Liverpool’s midfield?
He's a young player that's not as experienced as some of the other midfielders that Liverpool have been linked with. He looks like he can be a talent, but the main thing here is how can he balance the squad? Liverpool are linked with Youri Tielemans, who can fit into a position straight away, but with Caicedo I believe he'd be a more long-term signing, rather than somebody who's going to come in and make an instant impact. Players like Jude Bellingham and Youri Tielemans, on the other hand, could come straight into the side. He's talented, definitely, but he wouldn't be my first choice in regards to midfield reinforcements for Liverpool.
A journalist from The Guardian recently claimed that Liverpool made a move in the summer window for Real Madrid's Federico Valverde. He's been in excellent form recently for Madrid and apparently, Liverpool were prepared to pay £86 million for the Uruguayan. Do you believe Valverde has the qualities to be a success in the Premier League? And do you believe he's indispensable to Real Madrid? And that a move to Liverpool will never come to fruition?
It all depends on whether Valverde would want to move somewhere else. He's part of the most successful Champions League-winning side in history. He's only 24 years old, and he's a wonderful player to watch as he's so dynamic in the way he plays. To stay at Real Madrid would make perfect sense. However, if Liverpool were able to lure him, then he would be the type of player they need to continue this argument with Manchester City over who's the best team in England. City is winning that at the moment, but with Valverde in that Liverpool side, then Jürgen Klopp would be rubbing his hands believing he's got a side that can challenge again.
Madrid is a marvellous city, and I can imagine being in that environment is very pleasing, and as Real Madrid is such a big club then, the question is a case of why would you want to leave? Valverde has his own opinions, and if Liverpool can offer Real Madrid something they can't refuse, then we will see. If they could obtain him, then that would be a wonderful acquisition.
The Manchester Derby takes place on Sunday, and a lot has been said about the stature of Manchester United centre-back Lisandro Martínez. Do you believe that Erling Haaland will be targeting him on Sunday? And do you believe the physical presence of Haaland will be too much for Martínez this weekend? Will this present Martínez's biggest test?
I don’t believe Erling Haaland will specifically target anyone. I've got to say that I've been very impressed with Lisandro Martínez. The heightism which is being used against him is unjustified because if you look at his aerial duels, then he always remains competitive in them, and he can read the game well. He was unfairly criticised against Brentford as a lot of the things going wrong weren't due to him.
One of the things that impresses me about Haaland's form is just how strong he is. It doesn't matter who you are, as it seems as if Haaland will physically dominate you regardless. Whoever is playing in that Manchester United defence is going to try and deal with his physicality. He's scary. Whichever Manchester United defenders play on Sunday, they'll be up against a physical specimen with a high level of skill that I don't believe the Premier League has seen for a good while.
Kalvin Phillips has made a slow start to life at Manchester City. Do you believe he's good enough to displace Rodri in City’s starting XI? Do you believe he'll be regretting the move? The Daily Express claims his place in question in England's World Cup squad.
Well, if he stayed at Leeds United, there's no reason why he wouldn't be dealing with the same level of injuries. He can't blame his England situation on anything else other than not being fit. Had he been fit, then I'm sure he would have had more opportunities in that Manchester City side. Rodri, Bernardo Silva, and Ederson were the only players to play in 32+ games in the Premier League last season. Unfortunately for Kalvin Phillips, Rodri's pretty cemented in that Manchester City outfit.
As a Kalvin Phillips fan, I believe he's good enough to compete in this Manchester City side because I don't believe it was in the club's benefit to buy Kalvin Phillips from Leeds United, who’s not a threat to them, and just leave him sat on the bench. That wouldn't make any sense. I believe there's a future for him there, and he won’t be regretting leaving Leeds United for them. He will be frustrated that he's injured, but I just hope that the club’s medical staff can get him fit for the World Cup. He can help England be successful.
Manchester City are said to be monitoring Bukayo Saka's contract situation at Arsenal. He's currently in talks with Arsenal over a new deal, but which club do you believe will aid his development best?
I'm not good at being asked questions about transfers because I like players staying at their clubs, despite playing for ten clubs myself! I do like what Mikel Arteta is doing at Arsenal and Bukayo Saka is a big part of that. I can, however, understand why players want to move. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you've been at a club for a while, and even when things change, you still feel that you need a change yourself. If there's a chance of Saka moving to Manchester City, then he'd be joining the best team in England over recent years.
Arsenal are currently the best team in England as we speak, purely from their league position, but more than likely Manchester City are going to challenge them for that position. The question is, would Saka be given enough gametime at Manchester City? It's almost guaranteed rotation when you're fit because that's what Pep Guardiola does. Anyone who goes to Manchester City knows they're not going there to play every game.
What's best for Bukayo? Well, if you want to be part of a revolution in a sense, then you should stay at Arsenal as they're building something and they've not won the league for 18 years. You're part of a revolution if you can get Arsenal to compete for the Premier League title, but if you want trophies instantly, then you're almost guaranteed it if you go to Manchester City. I believe he'd be a wonderful addition for Manchester City. I've got a lot of Arsenal friends, so I believe he should move to Manchester City.
The Sunday tabloids have suggested that Manchester United are interested in England and Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. He's obviously done brilliantly in an England shirt, but do you believe he's good enough for one of the Premier League's giants?
What are the requirements of playing for a big club? I suppose i'’s being able to play in front of big crowds in important matches, and Jordan has done that. He played in a European Championship final and was as good as Gianluigi Donnarumma, who won player of the tournament.
Like Harry Maguire, there's a lot of people who kind of look for Jordan Pickford to make a mistake so they can accuse him of doing things wrong. He’s a tremendously talented goalkeeper, as he's proved with England, and when you have a confident, capable side around you, Jordan can stop things going in and can help things going forward. If he was to go to Manchester United then I believe he would do very well.