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 mobile gaming, England’s current state of form, rumours, and more.
With the new FIFA out this week, did you ever see teammates go on a gaming binge following the games release in September each year?
Yes. It was, and is, the most popular footballing game, and quite regularly, the lads would be talking about playing it. My sons used to play it quite a lot. Everybody used to look forward to the old FIFA, but historically, the main concern was who was going to be on the cover.
Thinking back to my England days, it was always a case of whether one of my teammates would get themselves on the cover of FIFA. That was the big issue. It’s such a good game that the lads would regularly play it and enjoy it.
What are your thoughts on the rise of mobile gaming on the go?
I was really into mobile gaming when I was a footballer. PUBG was my game. In my world now, I’ll play a mobile game and usually delete them quickly, but PUBG was something I was all over. The only issue with it was that people were able to easily hack the game. Despite some players being as good as they were, it was frustrating knowing that people were cheating, and that took away pleasure from the gaming experience. I never cheated.
The England starting XI for the Euro 2020 final was as follows: Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, John Stones; Kieran Trippier, Declain Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Luke Shaw; Mason Mount, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. Now hypothetically, if England’s first World Cup group game against Iran was tomorrow, then what formation would you play? And which of those players wouldn’t be involved in your line-up? And who would you replace them with?
When you name the starting XI from the Euro 2020 final, theoretically, that line-up could start against Iran. Of course, injuries could compromise that. I’d be looking to get Marcus Rashford in England’s starting XI because this season, he’s producing the form that Manchester United and England fans have been waiting for. I’d possibly have Marcus Rashford in there instead of Raheem Sterling.
In midfield, if Kalvin Phillips was fully fit, then he and Declan Rice are the perfect fit for England. Many fans suggest that we’re too defensive, but that style of play got us to the final of the European Championships. I don’t believe Gareth needs to change that going into the World Cup finals. The best way of winning knockout games is ensuring that you have a solid, continuous style of play.
If England can get the Phil Foden that’s been electric for Manchester City, then he’d have to come into the starting XI too. Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, and Harry Kane would be my preferred front three, but it would be a tight call as Mason Mount is one of my favourite footballers.
Manchester United are said to be interested in Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans, whose contract expires at the end of the season. Liverpool have been linked with him previously, and the club are in need of midfielders, so do you believe they should compete with United for his signature?
Youri Tielemans is a player I like a lot. When you look at the way he plays, he’d fit into Liverpool’s midfield. If you do have players potentially leaving on a free next summer, then he could fit in nicely as a replacement. Naby Keïta is out of contract this summer, and Youri Tielemans could fit in his position straight away. He would provide healthy competition for the likes of Thiago and Fabinho because he’s proven himself time and time again with his quality. If Tielemans does become available, then I believe it would be wise if Liverpool had a conversation to see if they could draw him in.
The big issue with signing a player on a free transfer is that they’re going to command big wages and sometimes the wages of a player can comprise the move. Liverpool’s rigid pay structure could be a potential stumbling point.
Armel Bella-Kotchap has impressed at Southampton this season after his move from VfL Bochum in the summer. Liverpool are now said to be interested in the centre-back who was recently called up to Germany’s senior squad for the first time. Do you believe Southampton will struggle to keep hold of him next summer?
I do believe they’ll struggle to keep hold of him next summer. Southampton are renowned for producing talent and selling them. It’s been their M.O for decades. You’re looking at a player who’s played 70-odd league games in his career already, and that tells you that there’s something about him. If Liverpool come in for him, if he’s bought to be brought through slowly, then he’d be a good signing. Clubs like Liverpool play in so many games over the course of the season, so young players will be given game time via rotation. How long will he be at Southampton? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he moved to Liverpool or one of the other big clubs in the Premier League.
Kevin De Bruyne recently equalled Steven Gerrard’s record of 92 assists in 287 fewer games. For you, when you take the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes into account, where does Kevin De Bruyne rank amongst the Premier League’s best ever midfielders?
It’s unfair to say he’s better than Steven Gerrard because they haven’t played on the same pitches. The conditions we had to play in 15 years ago were different to the more modern pitches that Kevin De Bruyne is used to. Kevin De Bruyne has had the best team in England to play with, so whether it’s been Erling Haaland, Sergio Agüero or Gabriel Jesus, then those are some very good forwards to finish off the chances you create for them.
When Kevin De Bruyne is on his game, then he’s incredible. It’s like the game is played at his tempo. I can’t remember Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard controlling the whole pitch like Kevin does. They both, however, possessed a high level of ball control, passing ability, and they scored a lot of goals between them.
Kevin De Bruyne paroles that pitch, and when he’s on it, Manchester City scores lots of goals and wins football matches so often. I don’t want to say that one player’s better than the other, but in the modern game, you’re not going to find a better midfielder than Kevin De Bruyne at the moment.
In your opinion, who’s the best goalkeeper in the Premier League? And who do you believe is the best goalkeeper in the world?
I’m a fanboy. I believe Alisson is the best. He’s got tremendous distribution skills, and he proved himself on many occasions last season. He’s completely and utterly unflappable in one-on-one situations, and I believe he’s the best in the Premier League and the best in the world. I love Ederson as well. These are two keepers that I really enjoy watching. The exposure that Alisson faces on a daily basis is a lot more than Ederson’s faced over the last season. Both of them never looked fazed, and that’s a level of skill that many others don’t have.
If you were to predict now who will finish in the top four at the end of the season, then who do you believe will occupy these positions?
Manchester City will certainly be there. Based on a logical argument that you don’t have to beat the top four, which sounds a little bit paradoxical, to be in the top four, then I hope Arsenal finish in the Champions League places. I think Mikel Arteta has a team that can beat everyone bar the top four at the moment. By that logic, Manchester United should make the top four, but I don’t believe that will happen. I believe the top four will be Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham. The beauty of it is that there’s so many candidates this season.
I would have even included Newcastle in the debate, but their problem, like most teams, is injuries to key players, and they don’t have as many big players as the other sides I’ve mentioned. Part of me wanted to say Manchester United would get there over Tottenham, but the task for Erik ten Hag is greater than anyone else’s. I think he will do a great job at Manchester United, but I believe they’ll drop points, and when you hear Tottenham’s players talk about Antonio Conte and how they approach games, you believe Conte will get them in the top four.