The news of David James signing for Bristol City has been greeted with almost universal delight in the area, but spare a thought for poor Dean Gerken. Until just over a week ago the 25-year-old was City’s first-choice goalkeeper. Now he finds himself second in the queue after the most surprising transfer of the summer so far.
“If they’re going to sign England’s number one goalkeeper then you can’t have too many qualms about it can you?” he says, a note of irritation in his voice that one suspects stems not from the situation but being asked about it all the time. “I’m just going to learn as much as I can off him, take bits from his game that I think will improve mine,” he continues. “And you can’t learn from anyone much better than David James.”
Nevertheless James is not here to teach, and is at pains to point out that while the relatively short commute from his home in Exeter was doubtless a factor in his decision, he is here first and foremost for footballing reasons. “I’m not here for an easy time,” he says. “Championship football is arguably no different to any other league football, if you think it’s easy you get beat.
“There’s an opportunity here football-wise,” he continues. “If City had just about avoided relegation last year then I’d ask myself, do I really want to be getting into a dogfight? It sounded nice because it was just up the road, but if it wasn’t for Steve Coppell I wouldn’t have considered it. He’s someone I hold in high regard.”
James admits his Portsmouth experience has changed his opinion of the Premier League somewhat. “I’ve got to watch what I say here,” he says, “but there are some bad games in the Premier League. It’s not all Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal, you know?”
Charismatic and erudite in a way few modern English footballers are, James fondly remembers his time with Portsmouth. “I loved my time there. We achieved so much in four years – more than most clubs do in a decade.” Quizzed on Pompey’s current predicament he is typically diplomatic, praising the fans rather than sticking the boot in to the incompetence behind the scenes.
“It shouldn’t have happened,” he says. “I feel for the fans who week in week out come to home games or travel around the country. I just hope it gets resolved in a way that is beneficial to Portsmouth Football Club.”
All that, however, is in the past, and James admits that chairman Steve Lansdown’s focus on stability was an important factor in his decision. “I went to see him and, as ambitious as he is, for Bristol City his concern was it being a sound football club as opposed to an achiever through his wealth. I buy into that ethos. It’s much sounder ground to play on.”
Dean Gerken may look at James’s age – he turned 40 last Sunday – and the fact the England keeper has only signed a one-year deal, albeit with an offer of an extension, and think he may not be waiting in the wings for too long. But James has no intention of retiring any time soon. “I was 29 when I left Liverpool and I questioned if I had much time left in the game,” he says, raising an eyebrow. “Since then I can’t be arsed. Just crack on.
“Physically there will come a time when I can’t do it performance-wise, or people just won’t want me, but as long as I still qualify in those areas then why not?”