David James Opinions

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On His Career

You played for some amazing fans over your career in brilliant, atmospheric stadiums - Upton Park, Anfield, Fratton Park - Did you have a favourite?  

I’m loyal to all of my old clubs, I don’t have favourites, however I do fondly remember special moments from each of them. It’s the little details that you always remember (about the old stadiums), especially when you reach a certain age!  

When I made my debut for Watford, the club that I grew up with, that was special. I loved playing at Vicarage Road.  

When I joined Liverpool, playing in front of the Kop, that was incredible. People often refer to the Anfield roar and ask what it is like to experience. I heard it as a Liverpool player when I made my debut against Sheffield United in the first Premier League season. As soon as the whistle went, I felt the roar and the hairs went up on the back of my neck - it was a wow moment for me. I never knew it was going to be so powerful.

Anfield looked a little bit different then. I think all four stands have changed at the club since I made my debut - even with the modifications to the stadium, it still gives you that feeling when you watch football there and that is a testament to Liverpool football club and its fans.  

With West Ham playing at Upton Park, the atmosphere there was incredible. While I played there a stand was being built, so we had to get changed in a portacabin, but it was amazing.  

There was something about Fratton Park (Portsmouth stadium). Fratton Park took me back to my childhood at Watford. The stands were a hundred years old, packed with 17,000 raucous fans. The pitch had a big lump in the middle of the goal area - it was 2009/10, playing Premier League football, but it was a pitch that was akin to something from 1985! It was a loveable ground - even the training facilities at Portsmouth were archaic at the time. I remember my time at the club fondly.  

Playing with Aston Villa at Villa Park, again, an incredible atmosphere. 

 

You played for several clubs, so this one could be a little tricky, but out of the captains you shared a dressing room with, is there one that stood out? 

While I was playing for England, there was always the discussion in the media about the importance of the role of the captain. My opinion was simple: there were so many brilliant players in that England squad, everyone had the ability to be a leader at any given time.  

Becks was probably the most frequent captain during my time in the England team. There were so many leaders within that dressing room, that the captain wasn’t really leading the team in the conventional sense of the role.  

Sol Campbell at Portsmouth was a great captain. Sol was a bit of an enigma when it came to his preparation for games. He loved the massage table! Sol and the massage table were united for so long (laughs)! What Sol would do as the captain of Portsmouth was to argue on behalf of the team for the right thing.

I think that the captain’s role is more important off the field and Sol was someone that was concerned about every single detail off the pitch that could affect a team’s performance on it. He was very vocal, not argumentative, but vocal. If Sol had an opinion on something he would share it.  

We won the FA Cup in 2008 with a decent team - arguably, it wasn’t the best group of players that Portsmouth had in that era - Sol was instrumental in that. Sol was a very important player during those first couple of seasons I spent at the club. I phoned Sol before I joined and asked him ‘Are you here for a pay-day?

What’s the ambition of the club?’ He said to me ‘Jamo, I’m here to win and we’re going to have a real go.’ As soon as he said that, I said ‘Sign me up, I want to play behind you.’ I had numerous captains at different teams, but I can’t think of anyone that was more dedicated to being a captain as Sol was. 

 

Was there a particular manager whose personality resonated with you? Who really understood you as an individual?  

There were two. I had numerous managers and, in they managed in many different ways, some of them were good and some of them weren’t good at all.  

Harry Redknapp brought me into Portsmouth. I’ve got an anecdote that describes the type of manager he was. My cousin was getting married, his mother was terminally ill so the wedding was brought forward by a year so she could attend. The wedding was on Friday in Bedford, Portsmouth were playing Everton away on the Saturday. In normal circumstances, I wouldn't have even thought about entertaining the idea that I would be able to attend a wedding the day before a game, but this was a unique situation.  

I went into Harry’s office and explained the story. I asked could I drive to Bedford, then go to Liverpool, no problem. He said to me, ‘Jamo, you can do what you want, just don’t let any goals in on Saturday.’ There were a few expletives thrown in. In the end, I got to the team hotel in Liverpool very late, but the following day, we beat Everton three nil and I saved a penalty. I played with freedom knowing that I had Harry’s blessing to attend the wedding.

I only had to focus on football and not having an upset manager, so that gave me a clear conscience. Any other manager would have questioned me, I’m not saying they wouldn’t have let me attend the wedding, but they would have challenged me on whether it was the right thing to do for the team. Harry was solid. All the way through that time at Portsmouth with Harry, he made me feel like the best goalkeeper in England and I regained my place in the national team. Everything worked in perfect harmony.  

The other manager was Eddie Howe when I was at Bournemouth in League One. He wasn’t the manager that signed me for Bournemouth, he took over after a few games of me being there.  

We had a dressing room of very interesting and lovable characters. In fact, the best changing room I’ve ever been in was at Bournemouth. We had an amazing harmony. It was bizarre.  

Every morning we would get changed and train at the stadium. The lads would walk in and you could see these characters going through their roles in the team. There was a lot of banter in there, but you knew that the club was going to be successful because the group of players were so close.  

Richard Hughes, who I played with at Portsmouth asked me ‘What do you think of Eddie?’ I thought he was fantastic. Eddie’s delivery, and I say this fondly, was quite monotone. He speaks very clearly, very concisely, without emotion. At the time, we had some very gifted younger players who were a little bit insecure and what these players are looking for from a manager is an emotional response - that is what they feel they needed to give them reassurance they were doing the right things.

Eddie’s approach was different. At half-time, he would say to his players ‘I’ve asked you to do something on the pitch, if you don’t do it within the next fifteen minutes, I will bring you off.’ He didn’t rant and rave, so the player that was waiting for an emotional response got a very clear message and responded accordingly.  

With me, he was very clear on what he wanted me to do. The irony of this is that I had a clause in my contract that would trigger a one-year extension if I played a certain amount of games. Eddie approached me and said ‘Jamo, next season, we’re looking in a different direction. The clause in your contract is a problem for me. As long as you’re playing well, you’ll stay in the team.’  

I didn’t have a problem with it. I was 42 or 43 years-old at the time and understood my place at the club. We played Walsall away, lost three one - not all of the goals were my fault - he called me into the office and said ‘Jamo, I’m not going to be involving you anymore this season. You’re free to do what you want.’  

He said it in this monotone way and when I walked out of his office, I realised that I just had the nicest sacking that you could ever give a player (laughs)! I totally respected him for the way that he dealt with that. I knew Bournemouth were going to do well - I didn’t think they would get to the Premier League. When they got to the Premier League, there were seven players from League One that went with them two years later. When Eddie got the Newcastle job, straight away I thought that Newcastle were going to do well.  

Harry was effervescent and Eddie was consistent and level. Two very different managerial styles but the best I’ve played under.  

 

Did any of your teammates have any strange habits or rituals they went through before games? Were you a superstitious player, David? 

I was superstitious. I had a few rituals, more at the beginning of my career than towards the end. For example, I wouldn’t speak to people in the toilet before the game - it went beyond putting on the right boot first. When I was at Liverpool, I would write the lyrics from House of Pain’s Jump Around on my gloves. I had some weird ones.  

David Beckham had five pairs of boots for England games. Customised boots and deals started getting big when I was with the England team, so lads would have their own boots. Gradually, you’d see spare boots start to mount up in the shower room. Becks had his boots personalised, with the name of the opponent and his kids’ name on them, but there could be up to fifty odd pairs of boots in the shower room!

Players would be choosing which boots to wear from their own massive selection - it was getting beyond ridiculous (laughs)! Family photos on shin pads, that was popular, but because I had my own rituals and superstitions, you’re not really looking at what your teammates are doing - you just focus on your own ones.    


Goalkeeper Rituals 

I have started to notice some of the more unusual rituals from goalkeepers. For example, when I played, I wouldn’t drink any water during a game unless we scored a goal. You get into these weird patterns where you think every action you complete will have a consequence.  

One of the funniest things I’ve seen this season is from Aaron Ramsdale. Ramsdale touches the crossbar until the match kicks-off. I thought I noticed it last season, and he confirmed it for me when I saw Arsenal play recently. He always holds the bar until the game starts. I was at The Emirates recently, the players took the knee before the game and I watched him jump down from the bar, hop onto his knee and then jump straight back onto the bar until the kick-off was taken. He must do it for his own reasons, and Arsenal are top of the league, but players’ have a tendency to repeat whatever is working before a game, so you can’t argue with it.  

 

If your routine was disrupted, say you couldn’t write down all of the verses from Jump Around, did it affect your confidence?  

At times it affected my confidence. I studied a bit of psychology, but I haven’t taken a forensic look at my own behaviour to understand why I did certain things. The logical point is that, if I broke a ritual before a game and ended up playing well and keeping a clean sheet, I would find something that I did do right to explain it and vice versa if I had a bad game. This is where you get into a vicious cycle as a player where you’re searching for confirmation bias. When I joined Villa, we had a sports psychologist, and I banished a lot of that nonsense.  

 

You have to assemble a back four or five from the players that you played with, who are you picking and why? 

(Without hesitation) Rio Ferdinand. I think Rio was the best defender that I’ve ever played with. Rio was born a little bit too early I think; if he was around now he would still be top drawer.  

Ashley Cole. I think he was the best left back the world has ever seen. I understand that some people may not agree with me and that statement could cause a few arguments, but, for me, Ashley was the best. He had the ability of a midfielder playing at left back. Everything about his game was superb. I love him.  

This is so difficult. Hermann Hreiðarsson has to be in there. He is my best friend in football and was as mad as a hatter, but he was the most honest and loyal person you could ever meet. He could play left back or centre half. He could impersonate Elvis! When I was playing in Iceland, I left my passport on a small island and he went and collected it for me in his rubber dinghy! I love the guy.  

Gary Neville. I’m going to chuck Gary Neville in. I love Gary Neville. This guy would argue that red was a shade of blue - if he believed it, as far as he was concerned it was true. If you wanted someone in your corner to fight for you, Gary Neville is that man. I remember playing against him - he was so talented as a player.  


On The Season

Which player has really stood out for you in the Premier League this season? 

Erling Haaland is an easy answer in one sense because he is the top goalscorer. What I’ve liked about Erling Halaand, is the progress he has made already this season in terms of his away goals.  

Erling Haaland and Harry Kane have scored in the same number of games this season, the difference being that Haaland has racked up a few hattricks at home. He has more than Kane, but they’ve both scored in fifteen games each. At the rate Haaland is going, he looks assured of winning the golden boot. Last season when Haaland was playing for Dortmund, he had a small problem in that the vast majority of the goals he scored came at home, which was replicating itself in the first half of this season. Since the World Cup break, Haaland is starting to score much more frequently away from home. With his ability to score in whatever arena he is playing, he has become doubly dangerous. There is a lot of conversation about who will win the title this season, and with Haaland scoring both at home and away, City have a very good chance to do that.  

Thomas Partey at Arsenal has been excellent this season. There is a direct correlation between Arsenal’s performances with him in the team than without him - he has been a huge part of the reason why Arsenal are having such a successful season. He doesn’t score many goals, but you won’t get past him and he offers that Arsenal midfield a sense of solidity that they need if they want to consistently compete for the biggest prizes.  

I think the acquisition of Leandro Trossard has been an excellent one. What he has done since joining Arsenal has been sensational. What he did against Fulham, setting up three goals in the first half of a match has never been done in the Premier League before. I think he has been a very impressive signing for Arsenal.  

Harry Kane. If you’re looking at overall goals scored, then Haaland leads the field, but Kane has scored in the same amount of games as him. If he can keep that up, then he gives Tottenham a good chance to finish in the top four.  

It’s been a weird season with the World Cup break. Apart from Arsenal staying at the top for most of it, most clubs have had dips in form and individual players have been hot and cold. Take Marcus Rashford, if you’d have asked me the same question two weeks ago, then he could have topped the list. I still think he needs to be in the conversation because without him, United wouldn’t be having the season they are.  

 

Which teams, managers or players have given you a pleasant surprise this season in a sense they are performing beyond their expectations?  

Brighton deserve credit for what they have achieved this season. When Graham Potter left and joined Chelsea, I wasn’t sure how the club would respond because he brought such continuity, but for them to be in with a chance of finishing within a European place - there is a very long shot that they could even qualify for the Champions League with a new manager, is quite remarkable. 

If you look at the Brighton story, the overall model under the ownership of Tony Bloom, (and you can put Brentford in the same category) and everything they’ve done to build their clubs the way they have, competing with much larger clubs, with much larger budgets and better players, for both of those clubs to even have a chance of playing in Europe is a tremendous achievement.  

Brentford Community Stadium is a cracking place to go to. It is a family atmosphere; Brentford are a family club, and they are regularly upsetting bigger teams there. Since getting promoted to the Premier League, Brentford have been nothing but themselves and have been very good at the same time. That gives every football fan hope.  


On Goalkeepers 

Who do you think is the best goalkeeper in the league?  

I think if you’re looking at this statistically, Nick Pope wins comfortably given the amount of clean sheets and the least goals conceded. I have studied his performances and, as well as Pope is doing, he does have a fantastic defence in front of him at Newcastle. A lot of the shots he is facing are from a distance, which helps.  

Im a fan-boy of Alisson. Unfortunately for Alisson, he is getting heavily exposed this season at Liverpool. At times, he is capable of thwarting the enemy, but he is getting so exposed by his team mates that he is conceding a lot of goals. I still think that Ali is amazing. Ali can do everything: his passing range is amazing, he stops shots.  

David Raya has been in fantastic form for Brentford. I would argue that Raya doesn’t have the all-round ability of Alisson - he has been brilliant at stopping shots, but a goalkeeper needs to offer more than that in the Premier League these days.  

David de Gea showed his quality at the weekend with some fantastic saves. He is also getting exposed at the moment, but he is producing saves that are putting Manchester United in a position to win football matches, but I don’t think he offers the same outlet with his distribution as Ali does.  

I’m torn on who I think is the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. Ramsdale, obviously top of the league with Arsenal, has had an impressive season and he has matured tremendously in a very short space of time. He has proved that he is capable of handling the responsibility of being Arsenal’s first-choice and, more importantly, has delivered consistent performances for a table-topping team.  

Despite all that, I can’t look beyond Alisson as the best ‘keeper in the country. I think he is the man to beat. 


On Match of the Day 

I have to ask you about the BBC asking Gary Lineker to stand down from his presenting duties for expressing a political opinion. As someone that has worked in television as a  pundit, what did you make of the broadcaster’s decision and the subsequent backing that Lineker has received from his BBC Sport colleagues and the world of football? 

Gary Lineker is a very intelligent man. I don’t follow Gary on social media, so I only found out about the incident when the story broke. He is entitled to say what he wants, contract or no contract, he is still entitled to say wherever he wants. 

Only Gary Lineker knows what is in his BBC contract. If he has broken some kind of agreement, then that is between him and the BBC and they are well within their rights to act accordingly. I don’t have a problem with that.  

I don’t actually watch Match of the Day on a Saturday night because I’m normally working, so I don’t consume the coverage like a fan because if I do watch it, I’m likely doing so as preparation for work and I like to see the match highlights as quickly as possible. The show that was broadcast over the weekend, without presenters, pundits and commentary, didn’t make any difference to my viewing.  

On the solidarity argument, again, everyone is entitled to behave how they like. If I was in the same situation as his colleagues that boycotted the broadcast, I would have to know why what happened happened and make a decision based on knowing the facts. I can only assume that everyone knew all of the facts before they made the decision to stand down.

I heard an interesting argument on the radio that made a case that some junior colleagues, not the pundits we all know, would have suffered because of the decision for the BBC to run a reduced football output. It would be interesting to know what their views are in regards to the situation. Ultimately, the BBC have a right to do what they want to do.  


On Manchester United 

David De Gea has spent eleven years with the club and his contract expires in the summer. Do you think that Dean Henderson could be the long-term solution in the United goal or is there a different candidate you would back for the position?  

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have even doubted whether Henderson was the right person to take over from David de Gea, but over the last few seasons, he hasn’t played as much football as I would have liked.  

I would have to put a question mark on that. David de Gea has wonderful distribution, Henderson will need to work on that side of his game if he is going to stay and become the number one choice for the club.  

If you look around the Premier League for an alternative, there is one keeper who I do like, Robert Sanchez at Brighton. He is a young, capable goalkeeper, who with the right coaching I feel could be absolutely top drawer. I’m not suggesting that Manchester United get rid of David de Gea, but his contract does expire in the summer and at the end of the season when the transfer window opens, he will be able to join a club on a free transfer if wants to. If United are looking for a replacement for him, a player with Premier League experience, then I think Sanchez could be the guy. He has the potential to be an absolute monster.  


On West Ham 

More jeers greeted West Ham after they failed to beat Aston Villa at home on Sunday, a match played between two of your former clubs. What has gone wrong at West Ham this season in your opinion?  

I think West Ham are suffering a similar problem to the one they faced last season. They have been caught between trying to be successful in Europe while remaining competitive in the Premier League. They were defeated in the semi-final against Frankfurt and there was a hangover with the club’s disappointing end which has carried over into this season.  

I think in many ways, what is happening at West Ham is similar to what is happening at Liverpool this season. Liverpool were in a place where they were two games away from winning the quadruple. Liverpool’s last season was such a success but was perceived as a failure simply because of the way they finished it. Had it been the opposite way round, with Liverpool losing the Premier League and the Champions League final but then winning the domestic cups, I think it would have been seen as a successful season.  

I think West Ham had a similar situation. You then have to couple in the size of the task of keeping players positively motivated going into a new season where they know there will be an awful lot of games, in an inferior tournament to the one they came so close to achieving something special in, while trying to balance your European commitments with being successful in the Premier League.   

The investment in the team is one thing, but if you’re a player that is going into a new environment that isn’t in a good place, it can be hard to settle and I think that there has been negativity that has spilled over from last season into this one, which immediately turns everything into an uphill battle.  

The talk about Declan Rice’s future won’t go away. I’ve been in that situation as a player where you’re sitting in the changing room and you’re expecting players’ to leave. That is unsettling for a player. The situation regarding his future hasn’t been sorted, so there will always be a lot of conversation about that, which isn’t helpful.  

With the nature of football and the world we live in, we know that with every West Ham defeat, the Declan Rice stories get even louder. There will always be people looking to create negative stories about West Ham, whether it's the atmosphere in the stadium, the manager, the fans, but I think West Ham fans are some of the best in the country.

The fans are so honest - they booed me - but I felt like it was justified because when we were relegated, my performances were not good, but if that fan frustration spills over and the environment around the stadium starts to become toxic, that makes David Moyes job even more difficult.

At the moment, albeit through goal difference, the club are out of the drop zone. I don’t want to tempt fate, but I believe that David Moyes and his squad are good enough to survive this year. Hopefully they can keep making progress in the Europa Conference League and can lift that trophy while retaining the club’s Premier League status. If they can do that, the West Ham fans will be buzzing.  

 

You mentioned Declan Rice and the conversation around his future. In the summer he will have a year left on his contract. He is a player that will be highly coveted. From your perspective, I appreciate that you may get in a little bit of trouble with some West Ham fans for answering this, where do you think is the best club for him to continue his development?  

I think about how big transfers work on the continent. You tend to see players announcing that they will be joining a club mid-season, that seems to be the norm and it doesn’t seem to upset anyone.  

If Declan Rice is being courted by the top teams in England, possibly in Europe, and he had a desire to leave, there would be a level of honesty that wouldn’t be liked, but would be appreciated by West Ham’s fans if he were to come out and say ‘I’m leaving the club and joining X in the summer.’ I think the fans would get behind him because Rice has been a loyal servant and he will be giving 100% until he leaves. English football doesn’t seem to work that way. He doesn’t have to declare any interest in any other club. You can tell with the way that he plays, Declan Rice is always going to give everything for whichever club he plays for.  

The silence around his future allows people to speculate. Arsenal are reportedly interested, but I think Manchester City could be a good option for him because we have seen in an England shirt the understanding that he has with Kalvin Phillips and that partnership could form the centre of City’s midfield for seasons to come.  

I don’t want to move Declan Rice on from West Ham, but, if the worst were to happen and West Ham were relegated, I don't see why he would stay at the football club.  

If there was to be a perfect suiter for him, then I do think Manchester City would be a great match. Rice has proven for England that he has the ability to play with anyone.  

For someone that played for ten clubs, I’m probably the last person that should be talking about club loyalties (laughs), but I would love to see Declan doing a Mark Noble and finishing his career at West Ham, while winning some silverware along the way. The reality is that he is a very desirable player and you think there will come a time where he and West Ham sit down and decide what is right for both parties. I think when that happens, he will move on.  


On Bournemouth 

Despite Liverpool not meeting their usual high standards this season, a Bournemouth victory wasn’t on the cards and gave their battle to remain in the Premier League fresh momentum. What did you make of the performance from Bournemouth on Saturday? Do you look at the squad and think that they can survive? If Bournemouth did avoid relegation to The Championship, how much of an achievement would that be?  

Given what has happened at the club this season, if Bournemouth were to stay up it would be an incredible achievement. There are eleven or twelve games to play, so still plenty of points up for grabs, but the fact that Bournemouth beat a Liverpool team who walloped them at the beginning of the season would have given them a massive confidence boost.  

Gary O’Neil, who is someone I played with at Portsmouth, has done a cracking job under some difficult circumstances. Some people think that Bournemouth will be happy to go down and rebuild the team to fight for another opportunity to come back to the Premier League, but knowing Gary, there is no way he will want the club to go down so he can rebuild - his focus will be on surviving this season.  

Bournemouth spent well in the January transfer window. Confidence is the key to everything in football. If you think about the Arsenal defeat a couple of weeks ago, something like that can seriously erode your confidence as a player, so to go one up against Liverpool so early in the game and to hold on will give them confidence that they are doing the right thing and have the right approach for matches. Bournemouth will expect to be under pressure in every single remaining game, but they can take confidence from that Liverpool result and they know that they can dig in and hold onto a result.  

Bournemouth don’t have to win every game from now until the end of the season. If they can win three or four more games, that could be enough to keep them up. They are one of my old teams and one I’m really fond of, so I hope they can do it.  


On Liverpool

You alluded to the fact that Liverpool were two games away from winning the quadruple last season, which would have been the greatest season in history. You spoke about the emotional baggage that would have come with that disappointment. How much of an impact has that had on the club’s struggles this year? 

The absentees that Liverpool had at the start of the season has been crucial. Not starting with a fully fit squad to utilise had an impact. Confidence has played a massive role too. If you look at the nature of how Liverpool finished second in the Premier League and beaten finalists in the Champions League, they were arguably the better team in that final. Had it not been for the heroics of Thibaut Courtois, Liverpool would have won. 

Liverpool know that they did everything right to win the Champions League, so when you’ve made those sacrifices and put in such a huge effort to be successful, to end up losing the last game of the season - the biggest club game in world football - the players would have been thinking about that all summer. 

Liverpool drew the opening game away at Fulham. They drew the next one at home to Palace, so it's only natural for players’ confidence to start to be affected by poor results and form. They went to United and lost and had two points after three games. They demolished Bournemouth nine nil and followed that with a win at home to Newcastle where they needed two very late goals. They went to Napoli and took a bruising defeat. At this stage, you’re a month into the season and the players are reminded that they are still not at a level where they need to be if they want to challenge for everything again.  

I was at the game where Liverpool beat United seven nil. The atmosphere was amazing, everything went to plan. Liverpool had eight shots on target and seven of them went in. You can’t replicate that week-in, week-out, it isn’t sustainable. To go to Bournemouth and have some early chances, miss a penalty and lose the game, sums up perfectly the confidence issues that Liverpool have suffered from all season.  

Liverpool built confidence after a nice run of victories, so I think that this a hurdle that Liverpool will be able to overcome in regards to their Champions League qualification - I don’t think the Bournemouth result will seriously affect them. Liverpool will deal with this defeat better than they would have done at the beginning of the season.  


On Emi Martinez’ Villa Future

Emi Martinez has stated that he wants to play Champions League football, hopefully with Villa. With the greatest respect to Villa, I think that is an unrealistic ambition over the next season or so. What do you think will happen with him and would you expect him to be there next season?  

When you look at the competition to finish in the top four this season, with some big teams not even in the conversation who will likely come back stronger, you have to question Aston Villa’s ability to qualify for the Champions League in the immediate future. The fight for the Champions League will be even hotter next season and Villa would need a massive turnaround to be in that conversation.  

It can happen. Brentford are doing something special at the moment, Brighton too. It isn’t impossible for Aston Villa to qualify for the Champions League but it is unlikely.  

I think it's interesting how the World Cup has affected teams and individuals. Martinez won the World Cup, he won the Copa America the year before and, given that his top flight career is in its infancy because it took him a while to establish himself as a number one goalkeeper after being on the books of Arsenal for a decade, you can understand where these ambitions would have come from and why they are so urgent.

At the same time, he has to be respectful of the fact that Aston Villa have given him an opportunity by taking him. I think his future will depend on whether or not Unai Emery and Aston Villa believe he is fully committed to the club and if he is in the right frame of mind to help Villa achieve those ambitions given all of the experiences that he has had with Argentina over the last couple of year.

If he feels like Villa are standing in front of his dream to play Champions League football, or the club feel like his performances could be affected by his desire to play for a different club, then I suspect if the right offer comes in for him, there will be a conversation involving all parties and a decision will be made about his future at the club.  


The FA Cup 

Of course, you have won the FA Cup while playing for Portsmouth. How pleased are you to see teams from the lower league’s making it this far in the competition and do you think the FA Cup is a competition that is in rude health?  

I love the FA Cup. I love the fact that there are slightly lesser teams still involved at the quarter finals. When we won it with Portsmouth, it was slightly ironic that we had six games, five of them against lower league opposition, five of them away from home, the only goal we conceded was at home against Plymouth, but we did have to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the sixth round, who were the best team in the country at the time.  

When we won the FA Cup, arguably, you could say that we had to earn the right to win it at Old Trafford rather than at Wembley.  

The FA Cup is the most special cup tournament in the entire world. To sum up how much the FA Cup means to me, I’ll go back to my time at Bournemouth at the end of my career. As much as I love Eddie Howe, I was fuming that I didn’t get the opportunity to play in the first round of the FA Cup because I’d never been at a club that went into the tournament that early. I also sat on the bench when we played in the second round and I thought ‘Playing in the early rounds would have completed my FA Cup career.’ 

It means so much. Since I retired I’ve been on the journey of seeing it at grassroots level from the qualification stages - I would watch my home town play in the preliminary rounds. The one thing about the FA Cup that never ceases to amaze me is that at a grassroots and semi-pro level, it is normally the game that will have the highest attendance for that club that season because every fan is invested in the journey and dreams of their club making it to the third round and drawing one of the big boys.  

It’s great to have Grimsby Town involved. It is great that Blackburn, Burnley and Sheffield United are there. On the other side of that, we have two giants in Manchester United and Manchester City that are still involved. The potential of a lower league team playing in the final or a Manchester derby as the final - that is magic.  

The FA Cup is a competition for the fans. If a smaller club can win it, a little bit like what Brentford are doing this season with potential European qualification, it gives everyone else in football the hope that they could be that lucky player or they could support that lucky team. When the unfancied team wins the final, a little bit like what happened when Wigan beat Manchester City, that gives fans a moment that they will never forget in their lifetime.  

The subtext to that great adventure and experience is that when I won it with Portsmouth, AC Milan ended up playing at Fratton Park with Ronaldinho and Inzaghi! If you ask any Portsmouth fan what their favourite game was, of course winning the FA Cup itself was an amazing achievement, but to have a player like Ronaldinho at Fratton Park, getting changed in a dressing room from 1985, that is the thing that dreams are made of. The fact that he scored a freekick wasn’t nice for me (laughs) but it was still a wonderful moment. 

 

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