Football: `Happy' James out to impress

DAVID JAMES, the Aston Villa goalkeeper, believes "happy football" can help him regain his England place. Kevin Keegan, the England coach, saw the former Liverpool player turn in a polished performance in the 3-0 success over Everton on Wednesday that put Villa top of the Premiership.

It is the first time in his career that James has started the season with two clean sheets and he insisted the enjoyment factor is a key element in him producing his best form.

James said: "My game is going nicely but it is only borne from enjoyment and, at the moment, I'm enjoying myself. I can't emphasise any more how important that is to me and, with the confidence it brings and the work I am doing with Paul Barron [the Villa goalkeeping coach], I have the chance to improve even more. It's at the stage where I don't mind the one-and-a-half hour trip down the motorway every day to training because I'm so happy. It's important for me to come in and say `I like this, I want to do this."'

James admitted: "The ultimate goal for me is to get back into the England team but to do that I have to perform for Aston Villa. I was told Kevin Keegan was at the game but I'm not going to come off the pitch thinking `I wonder if Kevin Keegan liked what I did?' I'm going to come off thinking `what mistakes did I make?' and `what can I do about it?' and, with Paul Barron's help, assess the game. I've been tired after the two games so far but I'm happy with that because it means the concentration level has been what I want it to be. I think I can improve my game. Everyone is capable of doing `the perfect match' and from there you try and produce a string of `perfect' matches."

James is also quick to acknowledge the part played by the Villa back three trio of Gareth Southgate, Ugo Ehiogu and Colin Calderwood. Although he refuses to criticise the Liverpool rearguard, the the Villa trio must be a welcome change for James. He said: "We learnt some lessons when we played Fiorentina in a pre-season tournament in New York and were beaten 4-0, but the mistakes haven't been made again."