EXCLUSIVE: David James opens up on missing out on Euro 2000 after a place was ‘promised’ to Richard Wright, becoming England No 1 again aged 39 and why Jude Bellingham’s Euro 2020 spot ISN’T a wildcard like Theo Walcott
- David James spoke exclusively to Sportsmail before England’s Euro 2020 opener
- James knows the pain of missing out on a tournament after his Euro 2000 snub
- Now 50, James feels the England squad has a perfect blend of youth and talent
- Jude Bellingham is his pick to go on and star for the Three Lions on the big stage
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here.
When it comes to the England set-up, few players have as much experience as David James. The veteran former goalkeeper has well and truly seen it all.
Representing the Three Lions first at U21 level and then through numerous reserve teams, the Hertfordshire-born stopper spent a career in and out of the national side; dealing with the heartache of rejection and the sheer surprise at being recalled while deep into the twilight of his career.
Ahead of England kick-starting their Euro 2020 campaign against familiar foes Croatia, there feels like no better person than James to ask about how to prepare for a tournament. And, in some cases, how to deal with the dreaded phone call from the manager breaking the miserable news that you’ve not got a seat on the plane.
Sportsmail sat down to chat with James from his family home, on a remote call due to the restrictions of modern day pandemic life. The iconic former England star, now 50, has plenty to say when it comes to the chances of his nation.
After a long, winding career in football, David James is well placed to talk everything England
James caught up with Sportsmail remotely from his Hertfordshire home, due to the restrictions of pandemic life, to talk England’s chances at Euro 2020
More pertinently, though, the chances of a team such as the one Gareth Southgate has at his disposal, showing all the hallmarks of elite level competitors.
Unlike the 2006 World Cup – in which former manager Sven-Goran Eriksson shocked the nation by selecting 17-year-old Theo Walcott despite him never having made a national appearance, or featured in the Premier League – England have brought youngsters to the party who have already been playing at the highest level.
When this comparison is put to James, he nods generously in agreement. He has met Jude Bellingham before, and has already been left with a lasting impression.
‘The comparison between Jude Bellingham and Theo Walcott is perfect,’ says James.
At the 2006 World Cup Sven-Goran Eriksson shocked the nation by picking Theo Walcott
Jude Bellingham, like Walcott in 2006, happens to be 17 – yet he already looks the real deal
‘The difference is Bellingham is playing latter stages of the Champions League, he’s won a trophy with Dortmund, as has Jadon Sancho at 21 years old.
‘His whole story is fantastic, the fact that he [Bellingham] goes out to Germany during a pandemic, leaves his family behind and still performs.
‘I see this youthfulness about him but a maturity at the same time, it’s quite paradoxical in a sense – his first line to me was “I thought you were bigger!”. But you can really see him getting game time.’
THE DETTOL UP PLAY-ON CAMPAIGN AND FAN SAFETY
Fans will be lucky enough to return for Euro 2020, though the need to take precautions is more important than ever before.
James says: ‘Ritualistic behaviour is something I’ve had all the way through my career, I still have it now.
‘When I go out, to the supermarket for example, I’ll put Dettol on my hands before I go there. I won’t touch my face or my mask until I get in the car and then I’m ready to go.
‘I went to the league cup final with fans recently and it was a different side I never realised I would notice. It sounds silly but when there’s fans there it’s like wow, this is what we have missed.
‘But it is so important, and even with the protocols in place at Wembley, that fans go through part of a ritual and have that sort of behaviour like putting Dettol on their hands and making sure their hygiene is spot on, just so we can enjoy the game in a safe, healthy and clean environment.’
Within the last few weeks Southgate had to shatter a few dreams by whittling down his 33-man squad to 26, and make a few gut-wrenching calls in the process. James knows better than most how this feels.
Being placed on the provisional list for Euro 2000 only to miss out was a kick in the teeth, though James admits he did have prior warning. What he struggled to get his head around, though, was the controversial manner in which he was not selected in favour of a team-mate.
‘In my circumstance I knew that I wasn’t going to be involved,’ says James.
‘I don’t know what Gareth said to the players with the likes of James Ward-Prowse or even Ben White, whether he had the conversation with them prior to announcing the squad and gave them an understanding of what their role was.
‘I found out a week before the FA Cup final and it was, I think, bitter-sweet – which is probably too much of a cliché but it was like “wow, OK I’m not going – what have I done, or not done, to get me on the plane” because if you know you’re not going to go then the only thing you can hope for maybe is an injury, which you wouldn’t want anyway.
‘You don’t want to get there through default, not that you wouldn’t take the chance once it’s been given.
‘Then you get the knock around, the manager comes and tells you that you’re not going to go and you’re thinking “so why not?”
‘It was then explained to me that Richard Wright had been promised six months earlier and I was like “really? Ok well fine, all the best.”
‘That was tough to take because it kind of meant that it didn’t matter what I’d done for Aston Villa, those next six months I wasn’t going to go.’
James reveals that Richard Wright (left) had been ‘promised’ a Euro 2000 spot which meant he had to miss out on selection, regardless of his form with Aston Villa
Yet James’ story is one of resilience and, perhaps, the most unlikely of turn-ups. When asked whether footballers get particularly caught up on looking ahead and working out how many international tournaments they could realistically have left, James offers the alternative viewpoint that it is hard to predict what is around the corner.
‘Even after Euro 2004, getting in the 2006 [World Cup] squad and not playing at 35 years old, then you’re thinking “there can’t be many left”… irrespective of what I did at Portsmouth Steve McClaren wasn’t going to pick me and then strangely, when you think your England career is completely finished – you get an Italian in Fabio Capello who says “come on, be my No 1 goalkeeper” and then I end up playing in a World Cup at the age of 39 years old.’
The call to play at the South Africa World Cup saw James feature as both the tournament’s oldest player, and also the oldest footballer to make a World Cup debut.
At the age of 39 James became the oldest World Cup debutant as he retook the No 1 jersey
It’s a nice and quirky statistic which he can forever keep, but James is the first to admit the standard of England goalkeeping is now thankfully sky-high. During his playing career, this wasn’t always the case.
‘What we have now in [Jordan] Pickford and Sam Johnstone, he proved himself the other night against Romania, and Dean Henderson, we’ve got three very, very capable goalkeepers who wouldn’t let their country down.
‘At West Ham going into the 2003-4 season we’d been relegated, I was England’s No 1 playing qualifying games as a Championship goalkeeper at 33 years old.
‘It’s kind of like that shouldn’t have been the way that football was. England should have one of the best goalkeepers in Europe representing the team.
‘I’d like to still think I was even though I was playing Championship, not dismissing myself in that sense, but the fact that for some reason there wasn’t that competition was interesting.’
Jordan Pickford, Sam Johnstone and Dean Henderson (L-R) are competing for the No 1 spot
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