James' fresh outlook provides focus for the big occasion

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The Independent Football

As viewers of BBC Television's Football Diaries may have noticed, David James is one of England's more loquacious footballers. Yesterday, though, as the national team prepared for tonight's Euro 2004 warm-up against Japan at his home ground, the City of Manchester Stadium, he was less talkative.

As viewers of BBC Television's Football Diaries may have noticed, David James is one of England's more loquacious footballers. Yesterday, though, as the national team prepared for tonight's Euro 2004 warm-up against Japan at his home ground, the City of Manchester Stadium, he was less talkative.

Maybe it was because the first questioner referred to his "Calamity James" nickname while the second mentioned the dearth of talented English goalkeepers - the subtext being a suggestion that James is only England's No 1 because of a lack of alternatives. Perhaps, though, it was more a case of, after their week of rest and recuperation in Sardinia and a break at home, England's footballers are now focusing on the European Championship.

James does "focus". As he explained, since the days of Calamity James, the nickname he acquired during his Liverpool days, he is focused on realising his potential.

"I've taken stock of what I'm about," said the Manchester City goalkeeper. "The problem in the past was that everything was taken for granted. Because people believed I was capable of becoming England's No 1 and performing at the highest level I took it for granted and didn't do the hard stuff, which was work at it. Now I've taken on psychologists, I'm dieting and training properly, my whole approach to football is aimed at fulfilling what they believed I would achieve.

"That Calamity James period was the low point. I was 26, 27 and trying to work out what I had to do to get back into the England side." The first step was a change of scene. James added: "The move to Aston Villa was the right move at the right time. If I'd left it a year, I'd possibly have missed out on the beginning of Mr Eriksson's reign."

Sven Goran Eriksson selected James to start his first match, in February 2001. James had played once under Glenn Hoddle four years earlier and was then discarded, Hoddle making him fifth choice behind David Seaman, Tim Flowers, Nigel Martyn and Ian Walker. Flowers faded from the scene under Kevin Keegan but James remained fifth choice, Richard Wright having emerged.

Then in November 2000, Peter Taylor took charge of the team for one match in which he invested in youth. He put James in goal and, when fit, he has been in the squad ever since. Eriksson initially preferred Seaman for competitive matches and Martyn as his understudy but when the latter was dropped by Terry Venables at Leeds, James took over and, after the World Cup, became No 1.

"David James has always done very well for us," said Eriksson yesterday. "He has made good, important saves. I am very confident about him. He is always very focused, his physical presence is very good, he's big, quick and strong. Technically he is very good and he can use his feet too."

James is, however, one of a handful of English goalkeepers in the Premiership and it is fair to argue that the overall standard is lower than the days when Joe Corrigan, Phil Parkes and Jimmy Rimmer were restricted to the occasional cap because of the excellence of Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton.

"It is obviously a concern," said James. "Perhaps we have to look at coaching of goalkeepers at an early age since they are not coming through to the first teams."

James rates Gianluigi Buffon, of Italy, as the world's best goalkeeper, although he also respects the more erratic Fabien Barthez, who looks like retaining his place with France for England's opening game in Portugal. "I'm not surprised he's still in the French team," said James. "He's had a good Uefa Cup run with Marseilles and he's played and won World Cup finals. Questions are asked about his temperament but he's won the medals, he's proved he can perform at that level."

James will be more concerned, in that match, with the French forwards, led by Thierry Henry. "The difficult thing with Thierry is he's unpredictable. He scores from 30 yards and from tap-ins. So your whole game has to be right. You have to be ready for the unpredictable.

"If we prepare right and go into the game confident, we can beat them. And that would be a massive confidence boost for the tournament: to take on the favourites and beat them."

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