It was only when he stopped trying to be a perfectionist that he could start being the player he wanted to be, David James said yesterday. The England goalkeeper admitted that he spent "years and years not being happy about football" but now regards the feat of Dino Zoff – who won the World Cup with Italy at the age of 40 – as one that he can emulate. "That's the goal," the 37-year-old said. "If I didn't feel I could do it, I wouldn't be here."
James is due to win his 37th cap tomorrow night in the friendly against France, having earned his place back in the team in Fabio Capello's first game as manager last month against Switzerland, and has spoken enthusiastically about the detailed regime the Italian has installed.
Such attention, and working with Capello's goalkeeping coach Franco Tancredi, appeals to James, who said the Italian's way is "as good as it gets" following the rejection he felt under his predecessor, Steve McClaren. "The environment with David Coles [the goalkeeping coach] at Portsmouth is very good, and it's good with Mr Capello's staff, and I spend a lot of time talking to them as part of my preparations. I imagine how things should be. It gives me a platform."
James, who has just signed a new contract at Portsmouth taking him to the summer of 2010, has spoken about the obsessive side to his nature that has, previously, damaged his career – whether it's playing too many video games, collecting things, or being too critical of his own performances. It blighted him at Liverpool after he joined from Watford in 1992. "I'd be playing games, winning 3-1 and being in a strop because I'd conceded from a penalty," he said. "It's not the right way to go, not healthy. Ultimately you are going to fail because you can't maintain perfection."
The problem was, also, that dwelling on mistakes bred others, as Liverpool supporters would testify. "I'm more dedicated now than I was at Liverpool, no doubt," James also admitted. "My time at Liverpool was unsuccessful in many ways for the club and for me as an individual. But what I did there, perhaps unfortunately for Liverpool supporters, was a major learning tool for me. Learning what I need to do, and when I need to do it. I'm getting focussed in the right areas now."
Part of that is a dedication to "psychological things" and James has, for eight years, been working on "imaging" – where he imagines shots he will save. It's something he does in the shower, on the pitch prior to kick-off and during the five-hour daily round-trip in his car from his home in Devon to Portsmouth's training ground.
"It's heavy going," he said of the commute. "There is a misconception that as you get older you tail off, ease off. My weekly routine is probably more strenuous now than it's ever been. The physical side of things, diving about, is all well and good but if you're not mentally there then it doesn't matter what attributes you have got, you won't get the best out of yourself."
James' preparations start the night before the game – which is why he was not ready when he played for England against Denmark in that infamous friendly three years ago in which he conceded four second-half goals. "I wrongly assumed I wouldn't be involved," he said. "When he [Sven Goran Eriksson] put me on I wasn't ready. I don't regret admitting that although it was an expensive learning curve." And not one he is about to repeat, especially as Capello only reveals his line-up a few hours before kick-off.Reuse content