JOE Corrigan gave the best summing up of David James I have ever heard.
It came a couple of years ago, when I interviewed Corrigan about James; one Manchester City goalkeeper taking about another. (This was about three months before James left City to join Portsmouth.)
Corrigan knew James well, having been his goalkeeping coach for seven years at Liverpool.
“The only thing that has let David down is his concentration,” Corrigan said. “At Liverpool, we would always be worried if he hadn’t had anything to do for 89 minutes.
“He’s a perfectionist, but he always wants to be involved in the game, and that has probably marred his career.”
You can still see that in James now. At 37, he’s in the form of his life, helping Portsmouth have the season of their lives. On Friday, he was announced as one of the six nominees for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award. (Yes, we all know Cristiano Ronaldo will walk off with it, but don’t let that detract from the fact that James has had a damn good season.)
And yet, amid the brilliant saves and the outstanding performances, James still exhibits the weakness that Corrigan pinpointed more than a decade ago. He still has to be involved all the time. He still has to come flying out of his penalty area for no reason.
He was at it again as Portsmouth played out a not-particularly-entertaining goalless draw with Newcastle at Fratton Park yesterday evening, a match which would have done nothing for Setanta’s subscription figures, and which was last up on Match of the Day.
Last night’s final game: Portsmouth 0 Newcastle 0
Commentator: John Roder
The game saw the worst and best of James. There he was in the first half, racing out to deal with a through pass, taking a wild swing with the right leg and barely making contact, then seeing the ball dribble away for a corner.
It’s not the first time James has done that this season. He’s a goalkeeper who seems to view his penalty area as a starting point rather than a boundary. Such willingness to come off his line is great – sometimes. When he winds up somewhere near the far touchline while an opposing striker runs off to score (as happened in the crazy 7-4 win over Reading in September), it doesn’t look quite so good.
And yet, in the second half, we saw the best of James; an alert save down by his near post to stop Obafemi Martins’ shot from sneaking in, and then an instinctive stop with his head to turn over Michael Owen’s close-range volley.
James is an outstanding shot-stopper; I can’t think of another goalkeeper I’d rather have on my side in a penalty shoot-out. It’s easy to be wise with hindsight, but might England’s World Cup fate in 2006 have been different if Sven-Goran Eriksson had brought James on for Paul Robinson two minutes from the end of extra-time in the quarter-final against Portugal, rather than using his third and final substitution to replace Aaron Lennon with Jamie Carragher?
No, you’re right. However many penalties James might have saved, England would still have found a way to miss more.
Kevin Keegan, of course, was the manager who brought James to City in January 2004, was left to rue James’ athleticism yesterday.
Then again, Keegan always sounds a little rueful in interviews. I seem to remember When Saturday Comes magazine, discussing a Keegan commentary for ITV on an England game at Euro 96, suggesting that he should make a country and western record.
Keegan, though, was right to credit his former goalkeeper over his PFA nomination.
“It’s difficult for a goalkeeper even to get nominated,” Keegan said. “That tells you how good he’s been.”
1. Derby: 11 (Gubba difference: +1)
2. Fulham: 7 (GD: +2)
3. Wigan: 7 (GD: +1)
4. Reading: 6 (GD: +1)
5. Birmingham: 6 (GD: 0)
6. Gubba: 5
7. West Ham: 5 (GD: 0)
8. Blackburn: 4 (GD: +2)
9. Bolton: 4 (GD: +1)
10. Portsmouth: 3 (GD: +1)
11=. Aston Villa: 3 (GD: 0)
11=. Chelsea: 3 (GD: 0)
11=. Sunderland: 3 (GD: 0)
14=. Millwall: 2 (GD: 0)
14=. Walsall: 2 (GD: 0)
14=. Middlesbrough: 2 (GD: 0)
14=. Newcastle: 2 (GD: 0)
18. Tottenham: 1 (GD: +1)
19=. Everton: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Cardiff: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Wolves: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Bury: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Workington: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Huddersfield: 1 (GD: 0)
19=. Grimsby: 1 (GD: 0)
(NB. Where teams are level, positions are decided by Gubba Difference; the number of times a team is on Match of the Day last with Tony Gubba commentating.)