Nightmare lets James rekindle a dream

Tomorrow's Dutch friendly provides fringe keeper with chance to claim England No 1 jersey
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The Independent Football

Putting aside the fact that it was Martin Keown with whom he painfully collided at White Hart Lane back in August rather than a Dutchman, David James could be reliving his worst nightmare in Amsterdam tomorrow.

Carried off on a stretcher within seconds of coming on as a second-half substitute against the Netherlands in the early season friendly, West Ham's newly signed keeper initially feared it was the end of his World Cup dream. As things have turned out, it is the Netherlands' World Cup dream which is over – not that of James.

"Desperate,'' was how he described himself as feeling before the full extent of his injury was revealed by a scan. Far from being the end, it was, in fact, a new beginning for James; or to put it another way, the ruptured posterior ligament acted as a kick up the backside.

"With hindsight, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me,'' said James, now back in the England fold and hoping to pick up his sixth cap in tomorrow's friendly. "My whole life changed, basically from being the guy who missed a couple of weeks here and there in 10-15 weeks of football, to actually being laid off for a few months, you sort of take note that you're not as invincible as you think you are.

"I've taken like a stock check – I'm coming out with the old Tony Adams shout here – I've looked at myself as a person. I think a couple of things I have to say I'm not good at, is keeping time, remembering people's names, run of the mill stuff, I'm not very good at it, and part of my psychology work is working on it. Now, I'm still no better at it, but I'm conscience of the fact that I'm no good at it.''

His preparation for games now is quite meticulous. Apparently, he keeps a daily log of his performance in training so that he can keep check on what aspects of his game he has been neglecting, if any. "Hopefully, it makes me not only a better footballer but also a better person, which is maybe more important,'' he said.

This self-analysis lark can go too far, but James does seem a more confident, more mature individual these days. Of course, the part-time model of designer-wear was in his element yesterday, parading England's new away kit at a Heathrow hotel. It would have been hard to imagine the stocky Cornishman Nigel Martyn prancing along the catwalk, but then the currently blond-haired, 6ft 5in James has always looked the part. He said he had never set himself long-term goals other than that of playing for England. "When I won my first cap against Mexico in 1997, my goal had been achieved and I didn't know what to do with myself afterwards," he said. "It was a case of, 'I've done it, it wasn't what it was supposed to be.' It was like a major low after a high, whereas my goal now is weekly, each game. From there it becomes monthly and now obviously seasonal and the goal for this season is playing in the World Cup.''

He realises that at 31 years of age and with the first-choice goalkeeper, David Seaman, well on the road to recovery, he will not get a better chance to make the England jersey – either the home or the new away one – his own than by successfully repelling the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Patrick Kluivert. Only this last month he has been on the receiving end of Hasselbaink's sharp finishing, though he did make an excellent save from the Chelsea striker on that fateful day. Seconds before Keown clattered into him.

"Jimmy is a very talented player, there's not a lot he can't do, to be honest,'' said James. "But they've also got dangerous wingers or full backs – that Van Bommel has scored one from 49 yards or something, hasn't he? They're all capable, there's nothing personal between me and Jimmy, the whole lot have to be stopped.''

First, of course, he has to be selected for tomorrow's game for which he faces competition from Seaman's Arsenal deputy, Richard Wright, as well as Martyn. James said he would like to think that "whoever is playing the best will get the opportunity to represent''. He added: "Now that I'm here, fit and playing, and with David coming back, it will be interesting to see what happens next month [when England play Italy] if David gets back to full fitness.

''I wish David all the best on his road to full recovery because ultimately as selfish as it would be for me to want to be the No 1, I think for a nation, for a football side, you want your best goalkeeper in goal. Hopefully, Mr Eriksson will get the opportunity to choose from four fit, top-of-their-game goalkeepers – may the best man win.''