September 5, 2016

Joe Hart: a transfer seven months in the making

Where does the England number one go from here?


The transfer silly season has passed once more. A record £1.1 billion was spent by clubs in the Premier League, the world transfer record was broken in £89 million move between Manchester United and Juventus, and Jim White, Father Deadline-Day himself, has returned to his hideaway after another night of delivering last minute transfers to all the well behaved managers (and also Alan Pardew).

Incredibly, in a transfer window that saw 13 out of the 20 Premier League teams break their transfer record, the most intriguing moves involved both an high profile goalkeeper and a central midfielder being shipped on loans from the league’s elite. First up, Jack Wilshere, who was so paramount to Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 plans that he was selected after managing a grand total of two appearances prior to the ferry trip south, has been moved onto Bournemouth for the year. And, secondly, Joe Hart, England and Manchester City’s number one since 2010-11, has become the first major casualty of the Pep Guardiola era, and will ply his trade in Serie A next season, for giants of the game… Torino.

Of course, when news initially broke that Hart would be moved on from Eastlands, shock and horror rained across the lands. “How dare Sir Charles Joseph Hart be mistreated in such a manner? How could he be humiliated so?!?” Serious disbelief was the order of the day as the two-time Premier League Champion, four-time golden glove winner, and 2013’s Head and Shoulder’s “Luscious Locks” title holder, not only played second fiddle to Willy Caballero, but saw any door even slightly ajar to return to his number one slot slammed firmly shut as City completed the £17 million transfer of Claudio Bravo from Barcelona, who appears to have grown tired of either rotating with Marc-Andre ter Stegen every week, or just got sick of winning everything.

While Pep claims the move was tactical; suggesting he prefers a more athletic sweeper of a ‘keeper (which is backed up by Manuel Neuer’s play over the past 3 years), suggesting, at 29, the time for changing Hart’s game has long past, it’s somewhat reasonable to believe that Pep will have been unimpressed by Hart’s performance over the past seven months. In fact, the demise of a man once believed to be England’s finest goalkeeping option since Seaman shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

While you shouldn’t really take tournaments into consideration when judging the quality of a player, it’s hard to ignore Joe Hart’s contributions in France were less than impressive. Entirely at fault for Gareth Bale’s 30 yard free-kick vs Wales in the second group game, and Kolbeinn Sigþórsson’s 18th minute winner vs Iceland at the last 16 stage, Joe Hart assumed a chunk of responsibility for England’s humiliating exit from Euro 2016. Costly mistakes are something you don’t expect from the world’s elite: David de Gea overcame a season and a half of shaky play in the early years of his Manchester United tenure to become Real Madrid’s number one target, and Spain’s number one; Manuel Neuer has risen his game to a level where he is, arguably, the most important member of a Bayern Munich side that boasts talents such as Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski. Joe Hart constantly gives the impression he will always have a mistake in him, and he’s coming up 30.

And Pep Guardiola isn’t the first to have noticed this. Under Manuel Pellegrini, Joe Hart found himself dropped in 2013 to Costel Pantillimon, and again in 2015-16 (for cup games) to Willy Cabellero. Joe Hart makes mistakes, and plenty of them. This is not a new phenomenon.

For Hart, he has work to get through. When his availability was made public knowledge, the expectation should have been that clubs would queue around the block for a man once dubbed “the world’s best goalkeeper” by Gianluigi Buffon, but only two suitors came a’knocking: Sunderland, and, the 12th best side in Italy, Torino. He chose Torino (which says everything you need to know about Sunderland), and will spend the season on loan. A change of scenery might well do England’s number one some good. Perhaps he grew too comfortable at Manchester City; after all, every time he was dropped, he was reinstalled after one or two games – the threat of a long term expulsion was never a possibility. But at the same time, with the overwhelming majority of the England side playing in the Premier League, would Joe Hart receive the appropriate level of scrutiny to remain England’s number one, especially with Fraser Forster and Jack Butland showing promise at their respective clubs? Hart requested assurances from City that he would receive the best move to remain England’s first choice, but this surely cannot be guaranteed.

From February until the end of last season, the narrative has been that “Pep will be watching with interest” as Man City fell away from the title race and into a scrap for fourth place. Mistakes crept into the side, and a clear out was expected. Guardiola is one of the world’s premier managers, and he knows better than most how to win football matches. It should be worrying for England fans that he doesn’t believe this is possible with their number one. Joe Hart has been given a season to improve himself to the point where he can be that player, or risk seeing the rest of his career on the outskirts.

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