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ASTON VILLA'S Paul Merson has reacted to reports that the club may sell keeper David James with astonishment, claiming that the England international is invaluable if the club want to advance.

James could be on his way out of the Midland side, if Villa agree to a £2.5 million deal with West Ham United for the eccentric star.

The Hammers' new boss Glenn Roeder wants competition for the goalkeeping jersey and to avoid a repeat of last season's nightmarish scenario where Shaka Hislop was injured and they were forced to rely on youngster Stephen Bywater, although goalkeeping coach Ludek Miklosko could also act as cover.

Merson, who has stated that he wants to take over a coaching position at Villa, is yet to sign a new contract with the club and feels if James moves on, he has to question the club's direction.

Merson said: "David James is a phenomenal talent and I can't believe that Villa might want to let him go."

James only signed a new contract with the club recently, and also pledged his future to Villa, calling on the critics to support the squad.