James: Keepers will end up looking daft
IN the otherwise tranquil setting of the tiny AT Arena in Ironing, Austria, last week, David James could be heard cursing and swearing. It was the same at the larger UPS Arena in Graze last Sunday.
The source of James's annoyance? The new balls being used for the World Cup finals.
"The ball is dreadful," the England goalkeeper said.
"It's horrible, but it's horrible for everyone."
James cited an incident in the first half of Sunday's friendly when a shot by Frank Lampard almost deceived the Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
"You saw from Frank's free-kick in the first half against Japan which dipped wickedly, so it'll be interesting," James said.
"Interesting" is a catch-all word -- a euphemism for something more alarming -- often used by James, but his frustration over the new Jabulani (an African boy's name meaning, ironically, 'happy' or 'to celebrate') balls supplied by adidas has been echoed by other experienced goalkeepers such as Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon and Julio Cesar.
Italy 'keeper Buffon yesterday joined the 'ball' chorus when saying it is unpredictable.
Brazil shot-stopper Cesar had already taken a swipe at the ball's design over the course of the last week, as had Buffon's Italy team-mate Giampaolo Pazzini.
"The World Cup brings together the best players on the planet, these champions must be given something decent," he said at the Sestriere training camp.
"The new ball is not decent, not just for goalkeepers, but for everyone. Its trajectory is unpredictable."
Denmark coach Morten Olsen also waded into the controversy after his side lost 1-0 to Australia in a warm-up game yesterday, saying: "We played with an impossible ball and we need to get used to it."
Adidas has rejected the criticisms, but the overwhelming sense from the players -- outfield ones as well as goalkeepers -- is that the ball is too lightweight, making it difficult to control.
Among their claims is one that the ball is better suited to the beach than the football pitch, while there will be an added variable -- and one which could compound the difficulties -- in that many matches in South Africa will be played at altitude.
"There's no real way of coping, other than lots of shooting practice," James said.
"There are undoubtedly going to be some goals scored in this tournament which in previous tournaments with different balls wouldn't have been scored.
"It'll allow some people to score extra goals, but leave some goalkeepers looking daft.
"We've been doing shooting practice every day, and I've been standing behind the goals watching the ball, so at least we'll be prepared."
Preparation has been a key for the 39-year-old, who has admitted in the past that unless he is 100pc focused, his performances dip. On Sunday he finally reached 50 caps for England, adding ruefully "it's only taken 13 years."
James will be on the plane to South Africa this evening, having known since Fabio Capello named his 30-strong provisional squad, including just three goalkeepers, that he, Robert Green and the increasingly impressive Joe Hart would be selected.
Now the big question is, who will start against the United States on June 12?
Capello has claimed he will make his decision the day before the game, having headed to Austria with each goalkeeper told he had an equal chance.
James started against Japan, Green against Mexico last week, while Hart played the second half of both matches.
When it comes to goalkeepers, Capello does tend to go with the man in possession, reasoning that taking a player out will damage his confidence.
That would suggest, as things stand, that Green is the most likely to start. (© Daily Telegraph, London)