James joins Spice Boys for quiet reunion

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The Independent Football

We have seen the reformation of Roxy Music, heard a more portly Simon Le Bon belt out "Hungry Like the Wolf" with Duran Duran as if it were still 1983, while even the death of Maurice Gibb may be no barrier to the Bee Gees playing again. So what better time could there be for a Spice Boys reunion? The parties, the groupies and the white Armani suits, which are the only thing for which the 1996 FA Cup final is remembered, may, however, be absent from the agenda should Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler ask David James if he would care to spend a few hours in their company now he has rejoined them at Manchester City.

James does not do nightclubs any more, nor, since they were caught by the News of the World indulging in what used to be called "high jinks" - in Colchester of all places - should McManaman and Fowler. Ask the England goalkeeper how he spends his evenings and he replies: "Playing funny card games."

That was not always the case when he was on Merseyside as part of Roy Evans' exciting, underachieving Liverpool side which, while they were a lot more fun to watch than Gérard Houllier's remodelled squad, were rather less doggedly professional.

"I think we were subject to early sensationalism with the links to pop groups," James reflected. "Everything in the world of pop and sport was going a bit silly but the bottom line was we weren't very successful and for a side like Liverpool that wasn't good enough. We were due some criticism without a doubt. Yes, we finished third and fourth but that was when third and fourth didn't matter. Given the side that we had, we did not perform to anything near the required standard.

"I did do some modelling," he remembers with a grin. "But that was blown up. You see a picture of David Beckham with a glass in his hand and you think to yourself: 'What's he doing out on a Friday?' It turns out that the picture is three months old. The modelling was literally two days' work. It didn't interfere but the misconstrued image did cause problems."

The white Armani suit which so embarrassed Evans and which, Sir Alex Ferguson remarked, made Liverpool "look like a squad of bakers", he now uses to play cricket.

James is older, wiser and technically a much better goalkeeper than he was at Anfield. "If you were to put the requirements for a centre-forward into a computer and say you wanted him to be quick, quite tall and strong, he would come out like [Nicolas] Anelka or [Thierry] Henry," his new manager, Kevin Keegan, said yesterday. "If you put a goalkeeper in, he would come out like David James. He is 6ft 3in, athletic, strong and quick.

"For him it is a chance to play in the Premiership because he needs to be there if he's going to go to Portugal for the European Championship. You do not come up against the quality strikers in the First Division that you do in the Premiership. But I will say this for David: nobody disputes his right to be England No 1. A year and a half ago, that was not the case."

Keegan had first talked of signing James in the wake of West Ham's relegation last summer but he would have cost a substantial fee and David Seaman was out of contract at Arsenal. It was probably a mistake on both parts. Seaman would unquestionably have preferred his last match to have been lifting the FA Cup at the Millennium Stadium, not a numbing 4-2 defeat at Fratton Park. The injury he sustained there accelerated Seaman's desire to retire at the end of the season, leaving City with two raw keepers under 21 and with Keegan contemplating using the defender Michael Tarnat, who had once kept goal for Bayern Munich, as a possible reserve goalkeeper.

James, naturally, talked to Fowler and McManaman, who gave him "an honest view of the place from people I trusted. If they had said there was something wrong with the club, then I wouldn't have come here". Strangely, James had not even watched Manchester City on television this season. "I have not been following the Premiership. I wasn't in it and didn't anticipate being in it. I didn't have satellite television and I was usually tucked up in bed at half-ten or eleven o'clock when The Premiership was on. People say 'Did you see...?' and I say 'No'. Conversations have been very brief."

Sven Goran Eriksson had stated that playing in the First Division would be no threat to James' international place, although the England coach did not tell him this directly. Unlike his leaving of Aston Villa, James did not want to quit West Ham, even with the club struggling to come to terms with the loss of their greatest talents and failing to adapt to the rougher, colder depths of the First Division.

"I believed Sven, which is why I talked to trusted friends before coming to Manchester. I did not want to mess things up, either here or for England. I am not a 38-year-old signing a one-year deal with no influence, I have signed for two and a half years and want to be part of things. There is something wrong at City because too many goals have gone in but I haven't come here to stand behind the defence and just let things happen. I am going to be very vocal in my approach."

He will need to be. Despite their FA Cup victory at Leicester City, Manchester City have not won in the Premiership since the first day of November. Should they lose at home to Blackburn Rovers, another big, underachieving club, this afternoon, this eclectic squad of internationals will be facing the same unreal struggle against relegation which James endured at Upton Park last season. "Since I've been up here people have said to me that Manchester City are too good to go down," James remarked. "I told them I've heard that before."