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Peter Shilton on England's number one spot

Clockwise, from top left: Paul Robinson, David James, Ben Foster, Joe Hart and Scott Carson
England's goalkeeping hopefuls, clockwise, from top left: Paul Robinson, David James, Ben Foster, Joe Hart and Scott Carson

By Jonathan Stevenson

When the size of the task facing him began to dawn on Fabio Capello soon after he took the England job, it is a fair bet the position of goalkeeper loomed large in his thoughts.

Having spent much of his coaching career safe in the knowledge that his teams could rely on the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas, Capello could be forgiven for a sense of unease at perhaps his new team's most pressing dilemma.

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With Paul Robinson shorn of confidence and form, David James approaching his 40s and a host of younger stoppers failing to establish themselves, Capello must have wondered where to turn.

Ahead of Wednesday's friendly with the Czech Republic the legendary Peter Shilton, England's record cap holder, with 125 appearances, talks BBC Sport through Capello's options between the sticks.

THE MAN IN POSSESSION - DAVID JAMES

As things stand, Portsmouth's 38-year-old custodian David James is the man in possession of the England number one shirt.

James has enjoyed a stunning two-year spell under Harry Redknapp's guidance at Fratton Park and, despite having many doubters, his form has won him back the coveted jersey.

"I have to admit, I never thought David James would win his place back in the team," said two-time European Cup winner Shilton.

"But fair play to him, when Robinson's level dipped he was in the form of his life and he has taken his chance with both hands since, you cannot argue with that.

Peter Shilton in the 1990 World Cup
Shilton in action for England at the age of 40 in the 1990 World Cup
"He is the man in the driving seat, he owns that number one jersey and he won't just give it away.

"He is on a massive high after a brilliant season that culminated in Portsmouth winning the FA Cup, a remarkable achievement.

"I think David gets better with age and he is showing great maturity too. He probably enjoys the fact that there is less pressure playing at Pompey than any of the big four."

But can James maintain his performances until 2010 and the next World Cup in South Africa, should England qualify?

"People talk about his age but he is definitely capable of staying at the same level for two more years until the World Cup," added Shilton, whose domestic career included spells at Leicester, Stoke, Nottingham Forest, Southampton and Derby.

"I played in a World Cup in 1990 when I was nearly 41 and I thought I had a very good tournament, so it can certainly be done.

"If David maintains his form and doesn't get injured, which are two fairly big ifs, I would expect him to be there in 2010."

THE FORGOTTEN MAN - PAUL ROBINSON

James, of course, has been the principal beneficiary of an alarming drop in form from Blackburn's former Tottenham goalkeeper Paul Robinson.

The man in possession for the best part of four years from 2003-07, Robinson's world began to fall apart after a horrendous blunder in Zagreb when he completely missed Gary Neville's backpass and England lost 2-0 to Croatia.

David James (left) and Paul Robinson
Can Robinson (right) win back his place as England number one from James?
Slowly but surely his confidence ebbed away and he became a shadow of the magnificent shot-stopper he once was, making elementary mistakes on a regular basis and eventually losing his place at Spurs as well as England.

But Shilton believes the 28-year-old can start afresh after his switch to Ewood Park and says there is no reason why Robinson cannot add to his 42 caps.

"Paul was unfortunate, he just made too many mistakes too close together and he had to pay the price," stated Shilton.

"I want an England keeper to make no more than one mistake per season but he made probably three in quick succession and he ended up losing his place.

"All the best goalkeepers make errors and Paul is no exception but the very best ones make fewer.

"I sincerely hope that we see a big improvement in Paul Robinson in a Blackburn shirt this season because at his best he is a very fine keeper.

"I know he has got it in him to rediscover what made him the England number one in the first place."

PRETENDERS TO THE THRONE

When Franco Tancredi was appointed as England's goalkeeping coach by Capello he had a stark warning for any fans expecting him to work miracles.

CONTENDERS, READY
David James: Age 38, Portsmouth, 39 caps
Paul Robinson: Age 28, Blackburn, 41 caps
Scott Carson: Age 22, West Brom, two caps
Robert Green: Age 28, West Ham, one cap
Chris Kirkland: Age 27, Wigan Athletic, one cap
Ben Foster: Age 25, Manchester United, one cap
Joe Hart: Age 21, Manchester City, one cap
"It won't be an easy task, seeing that in the first four Premier League squads there are four foreign starting keepers and frequently, so are the back-ups," sighed Tancredi.

But Shilton believes there is now a growing number of goalkeepers in the top flight in England who have the potential to put themselves forward as a contender.

"There are more good keepers around now than there were a few years ago, that's for sure," said the 58-year-old.

"In Robinson, Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland, Ben Foster, Joe Hart and Robert Green there are enough people for you to expect someone is going to mount a serious challenge.

"Having said that, they all have an awful lot to do to before they prove they deserve to be the England number one.

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"It is up to each and every one of them to put pressure on David and fight for the jersey. I wouldn't commit to any single one of them right now but it is definitely up for grabs.

"It would be a great thing for English football if someone could step up and really stake a claim.

"It is just a shame there are not many games in which you can experiment, with the World Cup qualifiers so soon."


see also
Ferdinand tipped to lead England
19 Aug 08 |  Internationals
England 'must forget Euro flop'
18 Aug 08 |  Internationals
Woodgate misses England training
18 Aug 08 |  Internationals
Pick your England XI
31 Aug 07 |  Internationals
James confident for season start
16 Jun 08 |  Portsmouth
Robinson vows to win England spot
29 Jul 08 |  Blackburn
Keeper Robinson joins Blackburn
25 Jul 08 |  Blackburn
Carson wants lengthy Baggies stay
25 Jul 08 |  West Brom
West Brom snap up keeper Carson
18 Jul 08 |  West Brom
West Ham insist Green is staying
18 Jul 08 |  West Ham
Hart backed for long England stay
14 May 08 |  Shrewsbury
Posh keeper given England call-up
24 May 08 |  Internationals


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