Model goalkeeper is looking naked in the penalty area

David James (left) may have the `yips' but with no credible replacement his place is safe. United have the experience of Raimond van der Gouw (right) to call upon. Phil Shaw reflects on the recent costly calamities of Liverpool's (and Armani's) No 1

When the Kop hailed him as "Armani's No 1", David James was playing so well that his secondary career on the catwalk was a cause for quips rather than qualms. A year on, with his catalogue of errors growing as thick as the Next Directory, he is more readily perceived as a goalkeeping model than a model goalkeeper.

It started up on Teesside and it will probably end in tears for Liverpool, if there is any repetition when Manchester United visit Anfield in today's potential Premiership decider. Early in January's game at Middlesbrough, James sent a clearance straight to Craig Hignett, who scored to send his former club on the way out of the Coca-Cola Cup.

The trickle turned into a torrent. Three horrendous gaffes at home to Newcastle - a misjudged dive, hesitation and a fatal foray into no-man's land, all in the last 20 minutes - nearly cost Liverpool a win that had appeared a formality.

Afterwards, James admitted spending eight hours in his house playing computer games prior to the match, leading to possible blurred vision. To think managers used to worry about players going out...

The following Saturday his fumble of a cross far from his line allowed Nottingham Forest to retrieve a point. The trait resurfaced in Norway, even though Liverpool beat SK Brann, and again, embarrassingly, when Coventry struck twice from corners for an unlikely away win.

James then gifted two goals to Paris St-Germain. Rumour had it he was standing for the Referendum Party; well, he was trying to take Liverpool out of Europe. And in Wednesday's derby at Everton, his habit of coming for crosses he has no hope of claiming provoked a sardonic "What's it like to catch the ball?" from both sets of supporters when he finally took one.

Bizarrely, in the middle of these weeks of living recklessly, James made his England debut against Mexico. Not since Stewart Kennedy let in five for Scotland in 1975 has Wembley seen a keeper wrap himself around the woodwork so often.

To many, James' hapless handling looks like a footballing equivalent of "the yips" in golf, where nerves wreak havoc with a player's putt. Others detect the opposite flaw, an over-confidence which makes him incapable of taking advice.

It is not mere fence-sitting to suggest the truth lies in between. At Goodison, after several near-calamitous moments which left Mark Wright looking as if he could have strangled him, James made a staggering save. There was nothing more certain than that he would come for and collect the resulting corner. Fired up, he did precisely that.

He may be James of the giant reach but his principal talent remains shot-stopping; he is arguably Britain's best when acting on instinct. Yet if judgement is called for - when he has time to think - he becomes Pat Jennings in reverse.

Nor, unlike David Seaman or Nigel Martyn, is he a phlegmatic, safety- first keeper. They exude presence much as Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton did. When a forward was through one-on-one against Shilton, they were confronted by an aura as much as by an individual. Even at 6ft 5in, James does not appear so imposing.

Part of the problem may stem from the fact that Liverpool do not have the back-up Steve Ogrizovic and Mike Hooper provided for Ray Clemence and Bruce Grobbelaar. The untested Tony Warner is James' theoretical deputy, while Roy Evans has also been able to call on a Dane, Jorgen Nielsen, since last month.

In spite of signs that the trust between James and his defenders is damaged, no one is advocating that either should take over like David Harvey did from Gary Sprake when Leeds were pursuing the "double" 25 years ago or as Les Sealey, on loan from Luton, did from Jim Leighton in Manchester United's FA Cup final replay line-up in 1990.

Today, Alex Ferguson may have to field Raimond van der Gouw, who came to United with a sound pedigree in Dutch football to succeed the experienced Tony Coton as Peter Schmeichel's understudy. Evans has no comparable alternatives.

While Schmeichel is far from infallible, as Derby demonstrated this month, he combines technique and presence, judgement and hatred of conceding a goal in measures his Anfield counterpart has yet to achieve on a consistent basis. Crucially, he can also shrug off a blunder in a way James seems unable to do.

Giorgio Armani described David James as "an extraordinary looking man". Were Anfield's No 1 to develop a temperament to complement his stature and reflexes, he could also become an extraordinary keeper. At 26 he still has time. Liverpool's needs are somewhat more pressing.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected