David James' lowdown on this season's Premier League goalkeepers

The time is now for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to make Dean Henderson his No 1, Leeds’ Illan Meslier is the one to watch and why Alisson holds the key to Liverpool’s title hopes… David James’ lowdown on Premier League keepers

  • The 2021-22 Premier League season starts tonight as Brentford take on Arsenal
  • Ex-England international David James spoke to Sportsmail about goalkeepers
  • He thinks there is a case to be made for Dean Henderson to be Man United No 1 
  • James’ one to watch across the league is Leeds United’s rising star Illan Meslier 

Having made 572 Premier League appearances between the sticks David James knows exactly what it takes to cut it at the top of English football. 

An established England international in his heyday, too, James is more qualified than most to run the rule over the league’s best stoppers and on the eve of a new season there are many with questions to answer.

James is speaking to Sportsmail from Wembley just weeks on from England’s agonising Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy. He’s there in a grassroots capacity, helping coach the next generation as part of McDonald’s free Fun Football programme, which just hit their milestone of five million coaching hours in the UK.

Dean Henderson (right) and David de Gea (left) are fighting to be Manchester United’s No 1

If it was down to ex-England stopper David James, he would put Henderson in from the start

While the chat goes in on whether these kids, from five to 11, are likely to follow in his footsteps, it is the next generation of Premier League goalkeepers where the chat takes off.

One in need of a rocket launch this season is Dean Henderson at Manchester United. 

The 24-year-old, who has battled Covid-19 during pre-season, failed to nail down the No 1 spot last season in competition with David de Gea.

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer juggled the position last season, keen to keep both goalkeepers on side and while James believes that same model could work again he is keen to see Henderson given the run to send his United career into orbit.  

‘What you have in Henderson is a young, hungry goalkeeper and you can just tell,’ James said. 

‘He’s a goalkeeper I get a buzz off watching because you can see the hunger in him. 

‘One of the observations I made with him last season was when things didn’t quite go right, it didn’t affect him. That’s a major quality you need in general goalkeeping but more so with a team like Manchester United.  

‘Look, if it was up to me I would want Henderson from the beginning of the season and like (Illan) Meslier at Leeds, allow him to become the goalkeeper I believe he is capable of being. 

‘Whether Manchester United can suffer that in the sense of if they were to drop points because of him then they are going to lose ground on what they want to achieve which is obviously winning titles and trophies. 

Henderson (right) is a rising star and James believes it’s time to give him a run of matches

De Gea threw down the gauntlet to his team-mate this week in insisting that he is not leaving

‘With the likes of (Jadon) Sancho signing for them you would imagine the ball will spend a lot of time in the opposition half and therefore you can suffer that adjustment period. I think it’s worth the approach because at 24 years old he could be United’s No 1 for the next six to 10 years comfortably.’

Meslier comes up on more than one occasion during this conversation, the Frenchman the pick of the bunch for James outside of the traditional Big Six.

At 21, Meslier has won the trust of Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa and the target now will be to lay down the fight to Hugo Lloris for the France No 1 shirt.

‘It’s interesting being here with McDonald’s looking at potentially the future of English football and Meslier comes in at Leeds, 20 years old, something that we don’t see English goalkeepers doing in the Premier League,’ James added. 

‘(Marcelo) Bielsa was confident enough to allow him to play the majority of the season in all sorts of tough conditions and I just got a buzz off watching him. He was solid and he was confident and I think this season is the season where he has an opportunity at 21 years old to go and make improvements. 

One of James’ favourite goalkeepers in the Premier League right now is Leeds’ Illan Meslier

‘It pains me in a way because when you look at the Premier League now there is a lot more French influence on the number of goalkeepers in our league. 

‘When you have Meslier at 21 years old, you look at him possibly challenging for the French No 1 spot with (Hugo) Lloris. That’s an interesting battle to watch.’ 

Goalkeepers like Meslier are unquestionably busier per gameweek than those at the top of the three with the finest defenders acting as their shield.

So what of the title challengers? Will the likes of Ederson at Man City or Edouard Mendy at Chelsea sweep up as the best in the division? Not if Alisson Becker has anything to do with it.  

‘I think Alisson is possibly the one who, given what he had to go through on a personal level last season and overcame to getting the wonder goal that helped Liverpool back into the Champions League, there’s an opportunity for him to go back to and improve what he did when he signed for Liverpool,’ James said. 

Alisson Becker, who scored against West Brom last season, will again be crucial for Liverpool

‘If he does that in the context of goalkeeping and what a goalkeeper can do for a team then you imagine, if he’s back to that level, Liverpool are going to put Manchester City under serious threat with regards to the title challenge.’ 

There’s a laugh down the end of the phone when James reveals the kids he’s been coaching are too young to remember him as a player.

They do remember De Gea and Henderson though and before he returns to the training pitch there is a final word on the battle at Old Trafford.

‘Title-winning sides don’t suffer many mistakes but it’s going to be an interesting battle,’ he concluded. 

‘If Hendo is going to fulfil his expectation that I know he believes he can be the best then there’s only one way of finding out and that’s taking the No 1 spot and making it his own.’ 

James has been working closely with McDonald’s as part of their Fun Football programme

McDonald’s launched its Fun Football programme in 2018 with the goal to encourage kids aged 5 to 11 to take their first steps into football, getting 500,000 children into the game for the first time. The Fun Football sessions are designed and delivered by FA Accredited coaches – the curriculum includes introductory activities perfect for children who are new to football, helping them develop their all-round skills in a safe, fun and pressure-free environment.

This autumn, more than 350 centres UK wide will deliver Fun Football sessions.

David James is asking parents to sign-up to McDonald’s Fun Football sessions, FREE for children aged 5-11 at more than 350 centres UK wide. Find your nearest centre at: www.mcdonalds.co.uk/football

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