When looking back at iconic English players, David James is on that list. With over 53 international caps and appearing in 3 different World Cups, it’s safe to say there are not many better who can speak on England’s World Cup. We spoke with the Liverpool, Portsmouth, West Ham, and Man City legend on England’s squad, Cristiano Ronaldo’s next step, and more.
We’re now on the verge of the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup, but back when you were playing, which of your fellow internationals were the biggest gamers whilst you were away at international tournaments?
Rio [Ferdinand]. Rio’s always the one that sticks out to me because he was the noisiest. Rio, Ashley Cole, and John Terry were fun to watch. I wasn’t part of playing the games myself, but it was a lot of fun to watch them. I did buy FIFA to try and join in but Rio was there doing all the skills and that, and that wasn’t my thing. I lasted about two minutes.
Would you say your teammates were more fussed about playing video games or watching the other matches in the competition during their free time?
Yes. In my last tournament at South Africa 2010, it was like a games area but we ended up playing darts more than anything. There were a couple of TVs set up, where a few of the players would watch the other games from our group. I found that most players watched the odd game but more importantly, got away from the tournament in any way they could.
Even with this tournament now, you’ve got four matches a day and that’s a lot of football. Players will have their matches, training, and media obligations to deal with, so I’m sure a lot of them will prefer to be playing Call of Duty rather than try to watch every game at the World Cup.
If you look at all the squads at the World Cup, where does England rank in terms of squad strength?
I think the balance in the squad is fantastic. If you put England next to Brazil, everyone will say ‘wow that Brazil side’s amazing’ because they’ve got so many great individual players. The same applies to the France squad.
Our England squad is really well balanced and regarding the five subs rule, the ability to interchange the squad that England have is impressive. To put a car analogy in here, I suppose that Brazil is like a pimped out Ferrari, where’s England’s more like a well kept Rolls-Royce.
I said this before the tournament, but I really like the balance England have. I may be slightly biased here but we’ve got the best squad for me.
Julian Ward, Michael Edward’s successor as Liverpool’s sporting director, is set to leave the club at the end of the season. Liverpool’s owners are also open to the prospect of selling the club. Do you believe that too much change can be a bad thing?
You can’t be frightened of change. The Julian Ward change is interesting. Technically this is his second season because he shadowed Michael Edwards in his final year in the job. The main thing for Liverpool, as far as I’m aware, is that their recruitment department is largely the same.
Those are the guys who will bring new players to the table. Liverpool’s recruitment has been fantastic. When you look at the signing of Darwin Núñez, you have a 22-year-old there who will become a superstar. Of course, I do believe they need more recruitment but that’s one of the natural things in football.
If the club was to be sold, and it’s a big if, their current owners have experience in sport and will want to sell the club to someone that’s in the best interest of Liverpool. What they’ve done quite often is listen to the needs of the fans and they value the Liverpool supporters. I believe any change will be a positive change and they’ll only do a deal that’s beneficial to the football club.
Reports are suggesting that Cristiano Ronaldo’s next move could be to Saudi Arabia. However, if he continues to show his form at the World Cup, do you believe a Premier League club could come calling? If so, which top side could benefit from him most?
There’s a financial benefit to having Cristiano Ronaldo in your team. I’m not going to go into the detail of the interview but the fact that he can command that position and talk about one of the biggest clubs in the world, in a negative way, should be a warning sign for anyone that wants to buy him, especially if you’re a Premier League club as the brand of the Premier League is the biggest in domestic football.
The fear would be that if he shows any sort of dislike towards his next club, then that can embarrass them globally. I think Cristiano Ronaldo’s Instagram profile is greater than the rest of the Premier League combined. You’re asking for problems in my eyes.
You’d like to think that the board of any football club has the ability to work out whether the negative repercussions outweigh the financial positives he can bring. I personally believe it would be a dangerous thing to do. Let’s be fair, time gets us all in the end. Is Cristiano Ronaldo going to win you a league? Or would you be buying a player to benefit financially off the field? I wouldn’t be buying him if I was a Premier League club as I believe there’s too much risk there.
The Guardian claimed a few weeks ago that Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is aiming to sell the club’s captain Harry Maguire this upcoming summer, and the club are prepared to accept a big loss on the £80 million they paid for him. Now that’s the position of his club, but do you believe another impressive international tournament with England can help him ensure that his next move is a big one? He was linked with Chelsea last summer.
Erik ten Hag has been bringing him on late in games and it’s a strange one in the sense that he hasn’t needed to bring him on in those games. I respect that Ten Hag has been trying to give Harry the game time that ultimately benefits England. I’d like to think that Ten Hag is giving Harry an opportunity and if Harry has a great World Cup then hopefully he will consider him staying at Manchester United.
I think a lot of the flack that Harry has received this season has been unjust. I’ve been through this experience myself and I believe he’s paying for the size of the club, rather than himself. He’s become an easy target and now it’s become part of the argument that Harry Maguire isn’t going to play, which is ludicrous.
He’s a wonderful guy and a wonderful player as well. I just hope he has a fantastic World Cup and gets himself back in the Manchester United team. I hope this is the stage in his career where he looks back on and goes ‘that was a sticky period but I got through it with flying colours’.
If the club has decided to sell him, then if it’s Chelsea who signs him or whoever, then they’re getting a top draw player.
Pep Guardiola has signed a new two-year deal to remain at Manchester City. Do you believe that between now and when his contract expires in 2025, he will lead Manchester City to their first Champions League title?
I have to believe he will, yes. Erling Haaland’s come in and been banging in goals for fun, however Arsenal are top of the league and Manchester City aren’t. I think there’s still work to be done for Manchester City in terms of the league, but when it comes to the Champions League, you’d like to think with Haaland there, it gives them a bit of a chance. If Jude Bellingham was to sign for them this summer, and it’s a big if, then that again will give them a big opportunity.
It seems like it’s a matter of time before they win it, but the only caveat to that is that other teams are improving at the same time, which is the wonderful nature of football isn’t it? Like all huge tournaments, it will come down to one game. They should do it, they could do it but it will be a tough battle for them.