David James Opinions

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On Goalkeepers In The Premier League 

Who do you think has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season?  

I’m a big Alisson Becker fan. I think that Ali is the best in the world. I know that he has been injured for the last few weeks, but he offers more than any other goalkeeper at this moment in time; he ticks every single box.

Talk me to me about Caoimhin Kelleher. Is he the best number two goalkeeper in England at the moment?  

Jurgen Klopp labelled Caoimhin Kelleher the best number two in the world and it’s difficult to argue with that assessment. My counter to that would be Stefan Ortega at Manchester City, who rarely puts a foot wrong when called upon by Pep Guardiola. He’s the City cup keeper, and last season he only conceded one goal in their run to winning the competition and that was a penalty in the final. I think he deputises for Ederson incredibly well.

I think either of those goalkeepers could stake a claim to being the best number two in world football.

Kelleher is so composed whenever he plays. I can remember speaking to him a couple of years ago after the Carabao Cup final that Liverpool won on penalties against Chelsea last year. We had a chat about penalties and his preparation for that game. He was so down-to-earth and went into great detail about his process. I was impressed with him. 

When you look at Kelleher, you think to yourself ‘you should be playing first team football somewhere’ because he is that good. There is a massive dilemma that he is facing where people instinctively think he should move on and play every week, but he’s at one of the biggest clubs in the world and winning trophies. He’s part of a hugely talented Liverpool team with a crop of youngsters that are coming through who will undoubtedly be challenging for honours for years to come and he is working behind the best goalkeeper in the world. From a ‘keepers POV, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Look at James Trafford at Burnley. He is playing every week, but he is letting in a lot of goals and getting beaten most weekends. As much as he is out there doing it, does that make it an enjoyable experience? I think that if you look back at the end of the season, one of them will have played a lot more games, and one of them will have won trophies.

On the subject of Kelleher, he was wonderful in the League Cup final and it looks like he will be the man in between the sticks for a crucial part of Liverpool’s season as Alisson will be out for a month or so. Are you confident that the Irishman will continue to shine in the Brazilian’s absence?  

I have the utmost confidence in Kelleher’s ability to fill in for Alisson over this crucial period for Liverpool. Kelleher isn’t Ali, he isn’t as good as Ali but when you look at him play, he is so calm; he never looks fazed. When I speak to him with Liverpool fans, some think that he looks a bit too calm!  

Of course, his team mates on the field will know his ability really well, but the wonderful thing about continuity is that it improves performances and we’re seeing that with every game that Kelleher plays. 


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Caoimhin Kelleher highly regarded


At the beginning of the season, Mikel Arteta was widely criticised for replacing Aaron Ramsdale as his number one, the noise around that decision has quietened. Have Raya’s performances and Arsenal’s position in the table vindicated Arteta’s decision?  

The difficulty with Arteta’s decision making around Ramsdale and Raya was that there was no point where he directly articulated that it was Aaron Ramsdale that cost Arsenal the Premier League title last season. But that must have been Arteta’s rationale for wanting to replace Ramsdale with David Raya in his team.

So, if the decision to bring in David Raya suggests that Arteta believed Ramsdale cost Arsenal last season, in order for the decision to be vindicated, Arsenal must go one better than last season and win the Premier League title this season.

I think it’s as simple as that, and, unfortunately for Arsenal, I can’t see that happening.

David Raya has the numbers to support Arteta’s decision as he has nine clean sheets this season, which is the most in the Premier League, but I can think of five games where he hasn’t had to make a save and three or four where he has had one save to make and not really had much to do. That isn’t to say that he hasn’t performed well, I just don’t think that he has changed Arsenal’s fortunes dramatically.

Funnily enough, Ramsdale will come into the first team when Arsenal play Brentford this weekend. He will know that this is one of the few chances he will get to play for Arsenal this season – do you think he goes into this game with a spotlight on him and under pressure? How do you think he will be feeling about this match? And if you were Ramsdale, surely you will be thinking about a new club in the summer. 

I think Aaron Ramsdale will be thinking about the European Championships, and it would be fair to say that with regards to England goalkeepers, Gareth Southgate has got a tricky situation on his hands because he only has Jordan Pickford from his group of three that is playing week-in, week-out. I know the Euros are a few months away, but at the moment we’re looking at one match-ready goalkeeper of the established trio. Aaron Ramsdale is firmly part of Gareth Southgate’s squad.

In this game, he will be looking to play well and help Arsenal get the three points, but he’ll also know that it doesn’t matter how well he plays, it will still be a one-off with Raya coming back in for the next one.

As a professional, he will want to have a good game. I think he will worry about his future in the summer – he shouldn’t be thinking about that now. In this match he needs to demonstrate to Gareth Southgate that he is ready if required for the European Championships having not been involved with the Arsenal first team for a couple of months. I think it’s important for Ramsdale to demonstrate that he can play and can play well after a spell on the side lines. He needs to show Gareth that he isn’t rusty. I don’t think there will be an issue with Ramsdale’s performance when he plays against Brentford.

If you were Aaron Ramsdale, what would you do in the summer regarding your future? Surely he will be looking to move on and, is there a club in the Premier League that you think could really benefit from having him?

I think Arsenal to start with could benefit from having Ramsdale in the squad (laughs)! Certainly against Brentford this weekend anyway. It’s an interesting one, isn’t it? If Arsenal were to win the Premier League this season, then Aaron Ramsdale could potentially argue that he’s part of a side that is capable of winning major honours with a lot of young, English players.

There might be an argument for him to stay if he is happy to provide competition to David Raya and be part of a team that chases prizes. I’m sure he would have opportunities; we’ve seen many teams play with a cup keeper over the years.

He’s twenty-five-years-old, which is relatively young for a goalkeeper. There could be an argument to stay and be part of what Arteta is building, and I don’t think that would demonstrate a lack of ambition from him. Let’s have it right, Arsenal is a big, big club with lots of fans around the world. There are a lot of reasons why you would want to be part of that as a player.

The other side of the coin to that is that trophies aren’t guaranteed (if he stays at Arsenal). The case for staying only applies if Arsenal can consistently start to win trophies.

I think there are a handful of London clubs that he would probably fancy. I really rate him as a goalkeeper, and with the exception of Tottenham, because I think Vicario is a wonderful player, he could comfortably establish himself as the number one at any of the other London clubs.


On Liverpool 

Liverpool left it late against Nottingham Forest with Darwin Nunez popping up with the winner. When you consider the key absences in this Liverpool team, and the number of youngsters that are essentially learning on the job in the Premier League, how much credit does Jurgen Klopp deserve for cultivating this spirit; this winning mentality that is cursing through the club at the moment?

I think there is a collective responsibility within this Liverpool team now. I think back to the summer when Jordan Henderson left the club. Jordan was the chest-beating warrior that would run around the field screaming at people. I don’t see that behaviour in a single Liverpool player now. It’s almost as if everyone in the squad is an equal. There is a wonderful balance at Liverpool at the moment.

Liverpool have had several injuries this season: it’s been a season full of them. Different key players, different positions, but because it has been happening throughout the season, I actually think that has helped the players. Liverpool have been able to find the right solutions when players have been out all season. The injuries have helped some of these young players, because all of a sudden, they will be drafted into first team training and many of them would have stayed there. These guys have got the ability and the confidence to play in the first team.

Jurgen Klopp and his backroom staff deserve a tremendous amount of credit for getting these youngsters into a position where they are sat in the dressing room and no senior players are questioning them.

Look at Virgil van Dijk’s comments after the Carabao Cup final victory. He was speaking with such pride about his younger team mates, and he gave them a lot of credit.

These youngsters are learning on the run at the moment, and they are receiving some of the most valuable football lessons you could ever ask for. It will be interesting to see if these youngsters are given an opportunity when the next manager comes in.

Jurgen Klopp announced his decision to leave Liverpool at the end of the season. Do you think this squad will conjure up something special for him to depart on – will they go on to win more trophies this season?

When I was asked earlier in the season about Liverpool’s ability to mount a title challenge, I was really positive. I thought they would be in contention despite the turnover in the squad. I just felt that the departure of so many players would have a revitalising effect on the squad.

The injuries that Liverpool are dealing with and the youngsters that have come into the squad has added another couple of layers to the Liverpool story this season. I’ve always believed that the best players in the world don’t run on emotions, they just win.

There is definitely something stirring at Liverpool. If you look at the Carabao Cup victory over Chelsea, Liverpool got that over the line and, you could argue, that Chelsea were the better team across the 120 minutes. Is what we’re seeing, this undefeatable desire, resolve and spirit because Jurgen is leaving at the end of the season? I don’t think it is. I don’t think the players are consciously going out there and thinking ‘let’s do this for Jurgen’. I just think that what Jurgen brings to the Liverpool changing room and the entire Liverpool group – even the people outside of the footballing side of things – is this belief and that is playing a massive part in Liverpool winning football matches. Klopp effects people in such a positive way, he is responsible for what is happening.


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Klopp looking to leave on a high


Liverpool’s biggest problem will be finding a manager that can replace Jurgen the person, not Jurgen the football coach.

When Jurgen announced his decision to leave the club, I thought the way he communicated that message was typical of the man. The way that he handled the press conference after the video came out, I felt straight away that Liverpool’s biggest problem will be finding a manager that can replace Jurgen the person, not Jurgen the football coach.

I can’t think of any manager that would have handled that situation like that. I appreciate that it was a unique situation, because in football, you rarely have a manager announcing his plans to retire at the end of the season. Sir Alex did it and Wenger did it, the difference being that Manchester United won the title in Sir Alex’s last season as manager, while Wenger retired without a trophy to end his tenure at the club. Because Jurgen has only won the Premier League title once, to do it again in his final season would be so, so special.

Liverpool will be thinking about Klopp’s replacement. Are there any outstanding candidates for the position in your opinion?

For me, it isn’t so much about Liverpool finding a replacement for Klopp who is a brilliant coach, it’s the human side of Klopp that will be so hard for Liverpool to replace. I think you can find a coach that could match Jurgen in terms of what you see on a football field. The tactics and approach might be different, but I think they will be able to find a manager that will bring Liverpool success on the field.

Jurgen’s connection with the fans and the media is a different level entirely. Ange Postecoglou has been linked and I like him as a person. I think he is the sort of guy that you want to listen to and doesn’t shy away from answering the awkward questions, a little bit like Jurgen. He also has the courage of his convictions in terms of his teams playing style to continue playing football the way he feels the game should be played. This is his first season at Tottenham, so you could question whether this move is a little bit too soon for him.

I’m not sure what the situation is with Xabi Alonso. He is the leading candidate according to reports, but he is also the leading candidate for a number of other big clubs. Everyone is looking at him and rightly so, but, again, he doesn’t have a body of work beyond what he is doing with Bayer Leverkusen this season. His Bayer Leverkusen team have been sensational this season and the job that he has done there is quite stunning. The question is, is one season long enough to prove your credentials as potentially Liverpool’s next manager?

I’m not sure if many people have thought about this, but I would suggest something a little different. I think Liverpool could bring in an interim manager – someone in the mould of an Ancelotti. Ancelotti signed an extension with Real, so not him, but that type of experienced figure who knows how to win. That would allow some of the candidates like Ange and Alonso the opportunity to prove themselves over a further twelve months and then Liverpool can make a decision.

I don’t think Jurgen’s decision to announce his retirement, as shocking as it was, was something that Liverpool wouldn’t have been prepared for. They will have a list of targets.

The interim solution you mentioned supports the notion that whoever follows in the footsteps of Klopp with be facing a bit of a poisoned chalice. it will be tough regardless of how talented a manager you are.  

We’ve seen big club’s struggle to move on from legendary managers in Manchester United and Arsenal with Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger respectively.  You can definitely put Klopp in that legendary bracket of managers.

Do you think that may put off some of the candidates? It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, the shadow of Jurgen will be looming over the next man in the dugout.

Following in the footsteps of Klopp, it’s very much the Sword of Damocles for the next manager. That takes nothing away from the challenge and the honour of managing a club of the magnitude of Liverpool.

I really think the size of the challenge the next manager faces is determined by what Liverpool do this season. If Liverpool were to win the Premier League this season, which has been the holy grail for Liverpool, that would be the one trophy that would carry an even greater emotional weight than any other. I know they could win a quadruple, and I would love that as a Liverpool supporter, but if Klopp departs Anfield with another Premier League title, you’re asking the next man to come in and improve on that, which is impossible. The next manager would have to win a few Premier League titles before Liverpool fans start to think they have the right guy.

Could an ambitious manager turn down the opportunity (to manage Liverpool)? You can’t turn it down, but there are certain challenges the next guy faces. The fans will always talk about numbers and trophies. The next manager will have to produce the goods for people to move on from Jurgen. No pressure!


On Aston Villa 

Where do you rank Villa’s progress under the guidance of Unai Emery and how far do you think he can take this team?  

I think Emery’s impact at Aston Villa has been astonishing. When you look what happened to him at Arsenal, you would argue that his stock was seriously damaged after that experience. He came in with all of the credentials, and it didn’t happen for him.  

He’s gone to Villa and stayed true to his beliefs. Villa are in fourth and eight points off the top of the table, that is spectacular. Ollie Watkins is playing brilliantly. Douglas Luiz has been wonderful as has John McGinn. In fact, the one player that hasn’t been doing as well as last season from a stats POV is Emi Martinez. They are up there fighting, and the manager is top drawer.  

You mentioned a couple of names there, but is there anyone that you would like to single-out for particular praise based on performances this season?

I don’t think that you can single-out one player. Watkins is, of course, scoring a lot of goals and creating a lot of goals; he’s been consistent throughout the season. The best thing about him at the moment and the part of the game that he has improved, is his confidence in his own ability to score goals and take chances. If you were to compare him to Watkins from last season, or the season before, he looks like a player that believes he will score goals every time he steps onto the field.

He is in super confident form, and he is supported by players like Douglas Luiz and Leon Bailey who are giving him that confidence. McGinn, a few months ago, I thought he could have been in the running for Player of the Season, but he went off the boil a little bit. He looks back to his best now. When McGinn isn’t firing, Villa tend not to, so I think his influence on the team is more profound than Ollie Watkins.

Emi, statistically isn’t as good as last year, but he puts in the big performances when Villa need them. Some dressing rooms you go in and you thank a player for his contribution, but I think the Villa changing room has the same similarities as Manchester City’s and Liverpool’s where the players look at each other and say, we’re doing this together,” and the manager is making sure that everyone is on the same page. The Villa changing room looks like one of those changing rooms that a player would love to be in.


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Emery has done a superb job at Villa


Aston Villa travel to Amsterdam in the week for a round of sixteen first-leg tie against Ajax. How do you rate your old club’s chances of going all the way in the Europa Conference League given Unai Emery’s European pedigree. Would the Conference League be the cherry on the cake of what looks like being a remarkable season? 

I absolutely think the Europa Conference League would be the cherry on the cake for Aston Villa this season. I was at the Europa Conference League Final last year watching West Ham lift that trophy and the West Ham fans were buzzing.  

When the tournament was established, there were a few raised eyebrows. People wondered if we really needed a third-tier European competition, but having played in Iceland, which is, respectively a third-tier football country, you have to go through several preliminary rounds to get to the competition group stage. It means an awful lot to some of those smaller clubs from smaller nations because the money helps them massively.

The point is that if you’re a fan of a club from a larger European league playing in the tournament, then you’re going to have some unbelievable adventures. Most fans dream of those moments. I go back to my days playing for Portsmouth when we were playing in Europe, and we had AC Milan and Ronaldinho playing at Fratton Park! Unbelievable times.

The fact that Villa are currently fourth and are leading the way in terms of taking a Champions League space doesn’t diminish what they are doing in the Europa Conference League. I hope they can go on and win it, lift a European trophy while qualifying for the Champions League through their domestic form. If I’m in that changing room, I’d be looking at the other teams in the competition and would be thinking we can do this.


On Manchester City 

Do you think City have been performing at the same standard as they were during last season’s record-breaking year? Some people have questioned this. What are your thoughts.

I think people will always compare teams, but in my opinion, it’s pointless comparing this Manchester City team, with months remaining of the season, to last season’s treble-winning side.

Every season is different. Having been to Manchester City’s last two games, I’ve seen in Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland, two players that absolutely love playing together. They are exceptional athletes playing with the enjoyment of kids. It was painful for me to see what those two conjured up against Luton because that’s the club I supported as a kid, but they are so good that they can almost play a game for fun.

What I noticed from the game against Manchester United was City’s composure. There wasn’t a point in the game where City looked desperate – they played with the believe that eventually they would find a way through.

There is a business-like approach to this City side. City will have a massive say in every trophy they are competing in this season. There is nothing that suggests to me that they aren’t going out there trying to win another treble.

They are just as ruthless and committed as they have ever been. Any suggestion otherwise is wide of the mark. Everyone is contributing in the team.

Phil Foden grabbed a brace in the victory over Manchester United. The England international is having a remarkable season. Do you agree with Pep Guardiola’s comments that he is currently the best player in the Premier League?

It’s a difficult argument to make. I don’t think you could argue against Phil Foden being the best player in the Premier League at the moment. Arsenal fans could say Odegaard or Saka could be in the conversation.  

Against Manchester United, Phil Foden was ridiculously good. He is making the difference in big games – the first goal he scored against Manchester United came out of nowhere and he created it all on his own. The second goal showcased his intelligence in terms of his movement, his balance and his technique. This is a guy at the top of his game who never looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s so graceful. He looks like a ballerina when he plays.

I know that he hasn’t been around for years and years, but he hasn’t ever changed from that player who burst onto the scene as a youngster in terms of his attitude and enthusiasm for the game. He improves year-on-year – this is his best ever season in terms of goals and there are plenty of games to go. I love him as a player.

With the form that Foden is in, he looks like he must be in Gareth Southgate’s starting eleven, but there are question marks given England’s strength in depth. How do you think he slots him into the team?

It’s interesting that England and Southgate have a player in Foden with so much skill and ability who doesn’t have a defined role within the England set-up.

It reminds me a little bit of Steve McManaman. Steve was easily the best player that I ever played with. He proved that by going to Real Madrid and winning two Champions League titles, but he only had 37 England caps. McManaman should have been front and centre of several England teams – we should have built something around him – and we didn’t win anything.

I’m not saying England would have definitely won major honours with Macca playing a greater role, but when you look at what Foden is doing, alongside some of the world’s best players, why can’t he have the same impact on an international stage. That is Gareth Southgate’s challenge: get Phil Foden to do what he is doing for Man City in an England shirt. If Foden can put in performances for his country at the level he does with City, with the players that England has, we can go into that tournament and win it.


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McManaman comparisons


On West Ham United 

What do you think happens next regarding Moyes? Many West Ham fans want to take the next step in terms of style of football and consistently appearing in Europe and many believe that Moyes has taken them as far as possible. Is that a fair opinion? 

I can understand the fans frustration to an extent. Again, it’s a little bit of a problem for Moyes because expectations have increased after they won the Europa League last season, and fans want to see their clubs take the next step. In many ways he is paying the price for his own success.

I don’t know what the next level looks like for West Ham. I think they would have to spend huge amounts of money to essentially be competing at Europa League level, because I can’t see West Ham competing for a place in the Champions League and consistently challenging the very best team in the Premier League.

I love football fans ambition. People could look at what Bayer Leverkusen are doing in Germany and think that West Ham are a club of comparable size, why can’t we challenge for the title, but it’s not as simple as that, unfortunately. Expectations can sometimes be a little bit misleading and I think the next level up is so far away in real terms, that actually being in the Europa League and trying to win that, coupled with consistently trying to qualify for that competition is where West Ham are at. They are two points behind Manchester United in sixth, they are above Newcastle and Brighton, and everyone is talking about De Zerbi as a potential Liverpool manager. David Moyes’ neck is on the block and De Zerbi is the best manager in the world – it doesn’t make sense.

From a fans perspective, the last two results have been massive for them. I think Moyes needs to win his next couple of games before that pressure around his future starts to ease off. Fans want to go to the games, and they want to enjoy watching their team play. The issue is that Villa and Tottenham are exceeding their expectations this season. Then you have Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal who are firmly established as top four clubs, so there isn’t a lot of space to compete with.

West Ham are in the mix. I think the season is going well. It is never going to be flawless – there will always be periods where things don’t go well when you’re West Ham. Ultimately, David Moyes needs to win games of football as cliché as that sounds. That is the only way to stop fans wanting him replaced.


On Aston Villa vs Tottenham Hotspur 

This is an enormous game in terms of Champions League qualification. We saw what happened when Villa played Manchester United recently – do you have any concerns about Villa being able to handle the pressure of such a vital match coupled with this one coming off the back of a mid-week trip to Amsterdam?

I’m confident that Villa will get a result against Tottenham. I like what Ange is doing at Spurs; I think he’s doing a great job there and I love the football he is playing, but I think that open brand of football will suit Villa.

United can be a horrible team to play against. I watched them against Manchester City and they made things very difficult for fifty-five minutes playing turgid football, so I can understand why Villa found things difficult against them a few weeks ago.

Tottenham won’t play like that. It will be an open game and I don’t think the travelling back from Amsterdam will have an impact on their performance. Villa are used to that Thursday Sunday churn. They have the players to handle two games in a week.


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All to play for on Sunday


On Liverpool vs Manchester City 

Liverpool have a mid-week clash in the Europa League away at Sparta Prague before this game. Given their limited resources and the importance of the City game, how do you think Klopp will approach the game on Thursday night?

I think it’s really difficult for managers when they prioritise games, because in doing so, you’re essentially sending a message to your players that one game is less important than the other. That type of message can blur the lines between what is expected of a player and what isn’t, while essentially going against your ethos of wanting to win every football match you play.

There is a conflict there. It’s not for me to tell Jurgen Klopp how to approach this game, but I do think that he could communicate to his players that the game in Prague is one of two games, and that in order to qualify for the next round, there is a second game that will see Sparta Prague coming to Anfield. This first leg is essentially half-time.  

You would think that Klopp will shuffle his pack against Prague with the City game on the horizon, however that isn’t to say that he doesn’t believe those players can’t win the game or the tie overall. There are four trophies to play for and Jurgen and his players will want to win every single one of them.

I also think that Liverpool would have gained a lot of experience from a couple of season’s ago when they were within touching distance of winning the quadruple. That season Liverpool got to the last game of every competition they were in with winning an unprecedented four trophies a possibility.

There are so many narratives to this game. You have Liverpool’s depleted squad versus a full-tilt Man City. The Anfield atmosphere and Liverpool’s record at home to City – it’s a game on a knife edge. What are you expecting from it?

If there is a winner here, then I think Arsenal fans and Mikel Arteta will be smiling. Of course, the winner has a slight advantage, but there will still be ten games remaining for each of the challengers.

This game won’t determine who will win the league. Both teams have scored a lot of late goals this season – they both have that belief they will find a way eventually.

It’s going to be an open game. De Bruyne and Haaland are playing out of their skin at the moment, and they will be hard to stop.

Kelleher has kept three clean sheets in a row. Manchester City haven’t been able to keep that many clean sheets this season.

Dominik Szoboszlai being available is massive for Liverpool. I think Gapko struggled against Forest, so the dilemma for Klopp is, does he start Nunez and Szoboszlai from the start or does he bring them on later in the game. I’m going to be at the game, and I think it will be electric.

I can’t pick a favourite. There isn’t a team that I want to see win more than the other because of my history with both clubs. As a lover of football, you just want to see the best players doing something special in a game of this magnitude and, at the end, go that is a fair result because someone produced something that took your breath away.  


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