David James on Iceland, Portsmouth & racism in the dugout
EXCLUSIVE: Not many transfers fly under the radar of the studious football fan, but it is doubtful many could name the former England international now operating in the relative obscurity of the Icelandic league.
Urvalsdeild club IBV is not exactly where you’d expect to find the owner of an impressive 53 caps for the Three Lions. Yet anyone who has observed the career of David James would know by now he is not one for convention.
And while this latest move may have come out of left field; the 43-year-old most certainly has his reasons. Extending his playing career is one. Not that adding the 20-30 games he needs to reach a 1,000 senior is a motivating factor. James is more interested in evolving.
Combining playing time with the chance to coach alongside former Portsmouth team-mate and IBV boss Hermann Hreidarsson is why he can be found thousands of miles from home on the tiny North Atlantic island. He sees it as the first small step towards management. Not the well-worn path of an ex-keeper coaching keepers, the seldom-travelled route from between the sticks to the top job.
“We’ve got a group of young players, there are older players, but predominantly they are around 21 and there’s a sense of enthusiasm I haven’t seen for a long, long time,” James explained while in Abu Dhabi visiting David Coles, his old Pompey and the current Al Jazira goalkeeping coach.
“A lot of these players are part-time, working on ships. There’s a lot of women’s football out there too; they don’t get paid but spend five days a week training. That sort of commitment and desire for a sport, you think, well, this is a perfect environment to learn as a coach and help a group of players achieve their aspirations.”
Not good enough
Should he himself achieve his long-term aspiration of managing in England, James would augment what is a tiny minority of non-white coaches. Just five of 92 Football League managers fall into that category and some, including his former England team-mate Paul Ince, have highlighted institutional racism as a contributing factor. Yet James couldn’t disagree more.
“Having been on two FA coaching courses, A Licence and B Licence, there weren’t many ethnic coaches, black or other, on the courses,” said the former Liverpool and Aston Villa custodian. “And if you look at the ones who have been sacked – the highlighted examples of there being a glass ceiling – well they’ve been bloody bad managers, so why should you give them a job?
“If a white manager gets sacked do people say there’s racism? There’s not. If you look at the influx of foreign managers then that makes it difficult and if you look at the number of English players going through managerial courses – they are predominantly white.”
One black manager enjoying success is Norwich City boss Chris Hughton, and James adds: “He’s been at Premier League and Championship level and is still in the Premier League now. But he gets excluded as the anomaly rather than saying ‘here’s a guy who’s had numerous jobs, one after the other, what’s the problem?’.
“He’s decent at what he does and that’s the problem – the standard of black managers in England isn’t good enough to demand these positions.”
Although he admits he has a lot to learn, James already has fairly strong ideas about what it takes to be a successful manager, with delegation being absolutely key. As he says, getting “the right person in the right position”. “I’ve seen so many managers who just take it upon themselves to do all the management side, then the coaching side and they’re picking up the balls afterwards – you’re thinking ‘you’re stretching yourself too far here’,” he added.
One thing James can’t understand is the preoccupation with money some coaches exhibit. “As soon as a manager comes in he says he needs money to buy players,” he said. “If you’re a good coach then surely you should be able to improve what you’ve got and therefore make the team better.”
Heady days: James among the Pompey players to celebrate the club's FA Cup.
Life at Pompey
The former England keeper knows a thing or two about clubs overstretching themselves in the pursuit of success, having been a part of the Pompey side that delivered the FA Cup only for their largesse to force them to the brink of extinction.
On Wednesday it was announced James had invested in the Pompey Supporters’ Trust who last week assumed control of the stricken South Coast club. Yet while describing the takeover as “awesome”, he refuses to condemn the club’s past excesses.
“I have to admit I was slightly naive,” he revealed. “I looked at Portsmouth’s stadium, 20,000 max, paying a lot of wages, but the thing was – and I don’t know specifically any other player’s wage – but in the context of Premier League football they weren’t astronomical. You just thought ‘okay, maybe they can afford to do what they were doing’.
"Arguably someone wasn’t looking at the balance sheet and in the end obviously it went belly up. Again this is the paradox you have in football. How much will you spend to have success?
"Now ask Portsmouth fans, they’re as loyal as anything, and the highlight for them in the last 50 years will be winning the FA Cup. Now they’ve gone into administration and nearly folded, was it worth winning the FA Cup? I would argue a lot of the fans would say so because they got something out of it.”