David James interview: 'A cricket-like algorithm could be used to conclude Premier League season'

Former Liverpool, Kerala Blasters and England player David James discusses different options on currently stalled Premier League season, challenges for football, 2010 World Cup and picks his 'Teammates XI'.

Tanuj Lakhina April 22, 2020 10:23:32 IST
David James interview: 'A cricket-like algorithm could be used to conclude Premier League season'

The Premier League season, like most global leagues, has been brought to a standstill by the coronavirus pandemic. With 92 games left in the season, the fate of quite a few teams hangs in the balance. Liverpool, 25 points adrift of Manchester City, are hoping to end their 30-year wait for the title in the top division. It is still unclear who will qualify for the European competitions and at the bottom of the pyramid, six teams are separated by eight points. A lot is in the balance with no ball being kicked, no goals being scored, no VAR being checked and stadiums sitting empty since 10 March.

David James interview A cricketlike algorithm could be used to conclude Premier League season

Former Kerala Blasters coach David James. Image: Kerala Blasters

The eventual outcome for the leagues has been hotly contested as the window to finish them keeps getting tighter. UEFA have suggested all leagues be played out and have kept 30 June as the deadline. The deadline, however, keeps getting tighter to adhere to as cases and, unfortunately, the death tally keeps rising alarmingly. One of the options being discussed is of playing without fans - an alternative that could see Bundesliga resume by mid-May.

"Some places are starting to relax lockdown measures. But in the UK, we've gone into another three weeks of lockdown. So the probability of players getting match fit, and then finding a location or a number of locations where these games could be held, is going to be very challenging. I think the concerns also would be that if the Premier League is given the go-ahead to play games, then there'll be other sectors in the country which would argue that they should be allowed or afforded that opportunity as well," said former England goalkeeper David James, in an exclusive conversation with Firstpost, on the possibility of league resuming.

James, however, believes that in the scenario of games not being played at all, an algorithm should be employed to figure the eventual outcome of the league. Another idea being touted is to declare the season null and void, an option he believes will impact the English football system.

"If no games can be played, then I think the fairest way to conclude the season would be to use essentially an algorithm similar to what is used in cricket. Having played 75 percent of the Premier League games, there's enough time to establish a pretty good outcome with a suitable algorithm. The likes of Liverpool, obviously, are probably going to be champions," said James.

David James interview A cricketlike algorithm could be used to conclude Premier League season

Germany's Miroslav Klose (L) scores past England's goalkeeper David James during the 2010 World Cup. Reuters

"I think the biggest factor in all this is who goes down and who qualifies for European football for next season. But I think the fairest way would be to get a resolution to the season with winners and losers. And, as I said, up to 75 percent of the games being played, the worst outcome that can happen would be to declare the season null and void because not only the Premier League would suffer, but the whole English football pyramid would suffer and then there would be lots of consequences with regards to European Cup competition qualification."

"To say it's health and safety first and main priority is fine but the impact is being felt financially. An algorithm would sort out the winners and losers but financially it would be a massive hit to the Premier League, to the point where a lot of clubs would lose a lot of money. And worst-case scenario, clubs could go under because of the amount of money that's lost or has to be repaid back to TV channels for loss of 25 percent of live games."

Fact that Liverpool could have been champions had it not been for the winter break, a first in the Premier League history, is not lost on the former Reds 'keeper. After beating Southampton on 1 February, Liverpool's next game was on 15 February where they needed a Sadio Mane bullet to beat Norwich City in the away fixture. But then came the unseen blip - Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid over two legs and extra time; FA Cup exit against Chelsea but the most disappointing of all was a 0-3 loss in the league, at Watford, that cancelled aspirations of going 'invincible'.

"Slightly ironic that we had the winter break for the first time in the Premier League. That winter break, in essence, could have cost Liverpool from being champions because those two weeks could have been enough for them to win the league. Especially considering their form after the break was a major dip. We're in a bad position, unfortunately, in one sense because the world is being harmed through climate change, but from a sport perspective, there wouldn't be any real damage in starting the following season a little bit later," said James who played 277 games for the Anfield club.

David James interview A cricketlike algorithm could be used to conclude Premier League season

David James in the technical area for ISL side Kerala Blasters. Image: ISL

With clubs and league officials considering ways to keep the impact of a potential football return to a minimum, an option being floated is to have regular games at few training ground facilities. James believes St. George's Park, home to development work done by the English FA, is an ideal option to be considered. But the absence of VAR facilities and degradation of pitches could throw a spanner in the works.

"If a facility or a number of facilities were going to be used instead of stadiums, the issue is they aren't set up for VAR. It sort of opens up the question of whether VAR needs to be implemented. In a bigger picture, my view was that the facility will have to support a group of teams, support staff, masseurs, cooks, kit men etc. and hotel facilities would have to be accessible," James, 49, said.

"My first thought was St. George's Park in the Midlands, because it has a couple of hotels and maybe eight-nine pitches. And therefore you could have a number of teams in one facility playing a couple of games regularly. One of the other big issues with regards to having one facility or smaller number of pitches is the actual traffic on the pitch. The pitch would not stand up to multiple games over a short period of time. Even with the technology that they have at the moment, you'd end up deteriorating pitches very quickly."

James has been spending time with family, building a daily task list and painting to keep the creative juices flowing in the middle of the lockdown. He has taken to art to express himself and thank UK's NHS (National Health Service) in their fight against the pandemic. The former Kerala Blasters player and coach also enjoys playing music, exercising and been watching some “really bad movies” while being holed up.

In an interview recently, former England manager Fabio Capello called the keeper 'Calamity James' and recalled the 2010 World Cup where England were sent packing in controversial circumstances. Joe Cole, a member of that squad, reckons the Italian wasn't fully committed to the team. James, however, believes Capello wasn't the most warming but that's his personality.

"When we did the qualifications for 2010, he was amazing. I was pleasantly surprised about how much he knew and how much he wanted to know. He would come up to goalkeepers and talk to us about certain things, and at times, he would tell us what he thought we should be doing. And he was quite strict about it. And I took some of it onboard and actually changed my approach to some of the stuff I did in football."

"This guy was very pedantic. I think the problem that he had in 2010 for the finals, was that he ended up in a competitive environment over a short period of time with a lot of games. What he was very good at was keeping players motivated for 10 days on a qualification run, a couple of matches, and then we would go away for a month, come back, and then it was hard for 10 days."

"When it came to the finals, I just don't think he fully understood what the players needed during that four or five weeks together, and unfortunately, we didn't quite get the results. I don't think there was ever a question about his commitment."

"Unfortunately for Fabio, and I say this in a respectful way, his personality wasn't the most warming. And you needed to understand that. Otherwise, you might feel a little bit offended by the way that he was. Fortunately, I kind of got him and I think he was a terrific manager," he added.

For someone who has played 900 games across nine clubs and country, James found it a challenge to pick a playing XI of players he had played alongside. After much deliberation, he went with: Himself (in goal, obviously!), Gary Neville, Glen Johnson, Hermann Hreidarsson, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Steve McManaman and Michael Owen. His bench options: Sylvain Distin and Wayne Rooney. Not a bad list!

Football fans can visit the official Facebook page of Sony Pictures Sports Network, @SonySportsIndia and watch ‘Sony Ten Pit Stop’ to watch David James talk on football and the various personalities that he has interacted with during his 20+ year career like David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, and Steven Gerrard among others. The session will be LIVE from 5.00 PM on 22 April, 2020.

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