An opinion piece questioning Joe Hart’s goalkeeping, just a day after England dropped points against its oldest enemy may attract accusations of being reactionary, if only that was the case.
The reality is that the last year and a bit has included one problem after another for the previously undisputed Manchester City and England number one.
Pep Guardiola being announced as the forthcoming City manager, on February 1, got the ball rolling, and the momentum has got faster as time has gone on, most recently culminating in the 30-year-old letting two really quite saveable free-kicks past him in as many minutes in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Scotland.
Euro 2016 was the first real on-pitch indication that the Hart was starting to break with England unceremoniously dumped out of the competition in France as early as the Round of 16 stage, against Iceland.
Not all the blame can be aimed at the goalkeeper, of course, but the Three Lions did concede four goals in their four matches against Russia, Wales, Slovakia and Iceland and a case could be made that Hart was at fault for all of them.
A looping header caught him off guard in the Russia draw, Gareth Bale’s free-kick from miles out squirmed under him and then a long throw-in that caught Hart out followed by another tame shot that seemed to go through him led to Iceland eliminating England.
Regardless of his Euro 2016 showing, Hart was probably departing City anyway, given Guardiola’s insistence on a ball-playing keeper, and Hart was duly loaned to Serie A outfit Torino. In his own words, to Soccer AM: “The management didn’t want me, so I had to go somewhere else.
“Obviously he (Guardiola) had different ideas. The manager who came in came in with a lot of experience, an awful lot of medals and I know the club worked really hard to have him in charge of the football club.
“Unfortunately, football is a game of opinions. His opinions weren’t too great on me, I kind of smelled that when I came in. That’s life, that’s football.”
Hart’s replacement at City, Claudio Bravo, had a disastrous campaign of his own but he was only ever a temporary option for Pep and his side, given that Barcelona’s other keeper, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, was the one he really wanted with Manuel Neuer, who he coached at Bayern Munich, never a realistic option.
Given Bravo’s below-par bedding in period, City fans and neutral pundits alike were calling for the return of the ousted Hart, but only by those that were not watching his performances in Turin.
Life in Italy was tough, and gaffe-ridden for Hart who dropped, in some cases literally, clangers against the likes of Inter Milan, Atalanta and Crotone.
Judging goalkeepers by statistic is difficult in the nicest terms, and downright inaccurate in the worst. Torino having the second-worst defence in the Italian top flight is not a direct correlation to Hart’s form, or lack thereof, and nor, really, is a poor shot-to-save ratio.
Hart’s inclusion in the Serie A ‘Flop of the Season’ XI is a damning indictment though and established Italian football writer James Horncastle quipping: “Torino couldn’t believe they had landed England’s number one. Over the course of the season, they realised why”, sums it up better than most.
Once done with England duty, Hart will return to Manchester, but if he even gets to the stage of taking his coat off and hanging it up on his dressing room peg, he can call that a victory as City’s £35 million signing of Benfica’s Ederson kicks him through the door that was already more than ajar.
While his time at his club comes to an end, Hart is also at risk of a bypass at international level. Jack Butland may have missed the majority of the 2016-17 season through injury but in his games since recovery he seems back on track while Jordan Pickford was widely considered to be the best goalkeeper in the country last season, despite Sunderland’s abject relegation campaign.
“We didn’t expect so many mistakes from an England international”, was the departing shot from Torino president Urbano Cairo but currently it looks increasingly more likely that a good moment for Hart would be more surprising.