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Sep 15, 2009

James put in his place at Pompey

David James' quest to be reinstated as England's undisputed number one might be jeopardised by mounting problems within his club side Portsmouth.

Even James' first-team spot at Pompey is under threat, according to sources who have provided ESPN Soccernet with the exclusive inside story of James' troubles at Fratton Park.

Manager Paul Hart has privately queried James' wisdom in writing a column for a Sunday newspaper, at a time when there is such turmoil within the south-coast club's boardroom and on the pitch.

This predicament is clearly affecting his status as Fabio Capello's first choice as the build up to the World Cup finals in South Africa starts amid the feel good factor of early qualification.

My sources tell me that all the Pompey players were requested to remain tight-lipped throughout the summer due to the growing uncertainly, but James carried on writing much to Hart's annoyance.

It will be interesting to see how the relationship between manager and his high profile England star pans out over the next few months, because Hart has been impressed by Asmir Begovic, a young prospect for the Bosnian national side, and James faces the potential threat of even losing his first-team place at club level.

Apparently, Hart and James have never quite seen eye-to-eye, but then James and former boss Tony Adams endured a strained relationship at the best of times with the pair engaging in a slanging match in the Craven Cottage dressing room following Pompey's 3-1 defeat at Fulham on January 31.

There were several occasions last season when James walked off the field after a game and ignored Hart as he stood by the tunnel to shake hands with all the players. When asked about this after the West Brom game in April, Hart's response was curtly: "There is no problem."

Hart, despite his friendly manner, likes to have full control of his playing staff. He reprimanded coach Guy Whittingham towards the end of last season when he gave an interview to local radio saying that loan striker Theo Gekas, a Greek international who played a total of 90 seconds under Hart, still "had a part to play at the club".

James' columns for the Observer have been a constant source of frustration for Hart who doesn't like the idea of a player "breaking ranks" and throughout the whole summer not a single player was presented to the media whether it be on a press day or after a pre-season game. Even when David Nugent claimed a hat-trick against Eastleigh he was quickly filed away without saying a word.

James first irked Hart on the tour of Portugal in July as he spoke to the press outside Guimaraes' stadium saying he wanted to stay at the club. It was not so much the content, but more that he had broken ranks when the players were under instructions not to speak.

This soon intensified with his Observer column on August 16 where he wrote: "As we began to sell our players we couldn't help but look around and wonder 'who's next? You can't help but start wondering whose fault is this. Where has all that income gone?

"As players and staff queried the security of their employment, it was an uncomfortable irony that Jobsite.co.uk were our new shirt sponsors when Canterbury, who make the kit, went into administration last month."

The weekend before the season started, James then put his name to a big piece in a national newspaper with similar observations despite the club only putting Hart in front of the press. It was becoming an open secret that Hart was fed up with him and wanted to sell but only for a sizable fee.

Harry Redknapp was considering a bid all summer but unwilling to pay around £5m for a keeper who has just turned 39 and has maybe two seasons left in him. However when Heurelho Gomes got injured, the need to sign a replacement intensified and on deadline day an offer was made, a straight swap, of Carlo Cudicini for James. This was turned down and that was the end of the matter.

Privately, James is frustrated he did not get his move as fighting a perceived relegation battle in a World Cup season, with Rob Green now looking Capello's number one, may not be so good for his hopes for South Africa.

It could get worse as a slight reoccurrence of his shoulder injury has opened the door for the highly-rated Begovic, a former Canadian Under-17 international, who has been at the club for the last four years. Hart is a big fan.

Chief executive Peter Storrie warned after the transfer window closed: "David has said things and most of those conversations have been with Paul. Let's just say they have had discussions. As far as we are concerned he is under contract and here to give 100% to Portsmouth Football Club. If he does not want that, he has to tell us."

What could be a glorious swansong season for James, with a World Cup at the end of it, could be one spent kicking his heels on the touchlines in the Premier League, followed by a lost opportunity for England in South Africa. He was back in the team against Bolton on Saturday, but there remains an awful lot at stake.

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