In his first UEFA EURO 2020 column, former England No1 David James discusses causes for optimism and Gareth Southgate's goalkeeping options.
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EURO 2004 was my first major tournament as a player, 14 years after my professional debut – that feeling was really special. I’ve got such good memories of it. People refer to that era as a ‘golden generation’ for England but the players didn’t feel like that at the time.
We lost the first game against France but we were still very confident as a group. We beat Switzerland and then won 4-2 against Croatia, who we’re playing again this summer. We weren’t as worried about conceding goals because of our strength going forward. Wayne Rooney’s injury and David Beckham’s unfortunate penalty against Portugal in the quarter-finals could have been the difference. Before you know it, you’re out and thinking about the next one.
This is without doubt one of the strongest major tournament squads England have had for a long time. There’s quality throughout, in every position. You’ve got Golden Boot winner Harry Kane up front, backed up by tremendous young talent in the likes of Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho. We’ve got such quality and youth, it’s exciting.
England had seven players starting in the Champions League final and a few in the Europa League final too. I don’t want this to sound overconfident, but I don’t see an obvious area of weakness in this squad – everyone has proved themselves this season. There’s real strength in depth. I just enjoy watching England and it gives me hope they might be able to go all the way this time.Download the EURO app
I’ve been fortunate enough to be with some of the squad and there’s a really nice buzz around them. From the guys I’ve spoken to, they’re in a really good space and it didn’t feel like they were under any pressure. These are players who’ve been in European finals and won plenty of domestic honours this season too. These are the pressure situations they want to be in.
When you look at the squad, look at what they’ve done this season, England fans should be very confident that they can do something special.
It is essentially a home tournament and the fans can give them a real boost. I didn’t play at EURO ’96 but I remember watching it – the mood was so good and if we can replicate that, there’s no doubt England’s chances will improve. Fans returning should give the players a boost to do well … but I’m not going to say they’re going to win it.
Jordan Pickford is England’s No1, but the beauty of the conversation about England’s keepers is that with Dean Henderson there is an argument. Henderson performed very well for Manchester United this season; he’s come in and presented a strong case to dislodge David de Gea as first choice. If you can be No1 for Manchester United, you can be No1 for England. That’s not to say he should play, but he could play. There’s genuine competition.
One keeper I am really looking forward to seeing up close is Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma – he’s only 22 but has loads of experience and seems to have been around forever already. He’s a monster of a goalkeeper. Gianluigi Buffon is my favourite keeper of all time, and this guy is the heir to his throne. Italy seem to consistently produce world-class keepers, from Dino Zoff to Buffon and now Donnarumma. This young man could be a legend.