This week in our Plane to Russia or Plane to Marbella series, we’re looking at one of the most difficult decisions that Gareth Southgate is faced with in the lead up to Russia 2018 – who will wear the No.1 shirt?
As it stands, Southgate has a number of capable goalkeepers to choose from, with Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, and Joe Hart all in contention to regain their spots in England’s 23-man squad. But with each keeper struggling to hit top form this season, will Southgate be forced to look elsewhere? England’s current No.1 Joe Hart is by far the most under-fire of the three men between the sticks, leading many to question if the 30-year-old still has what it takes to represent the Three Lions. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what Hart has to offer, and whether the two-time Premier League winner is the latest in a long list of forgettable England goalkeepers.
Anyone who has been keeping up with the Premier League over the last decade will know all about Joe Hart, so unlike some of our other Plane to Russia articles, we’re not going to waste too much time delving into his early history.
All you need to know is this:
- Hart has made 513 appearances as a professional footballer.
- He’s earned 75 caps for England since 2008.
- He’s won two Premier League titles with Manchester City.
- He’s won four Premier League Golden Glove awards – more than any other goalkeeper in the competition.
It’s a pretty decent CV, and up until about two years ago Hart was ranked amongst the best goalkeepers in the world. He was fierce, commanding, gifted, and for the most part – pretty reliable. Hart was the sort of player you’d be happy to buy on FIFA – a quality talent that you’re not going to pay over the odds for.
Pep Guardiola, wilderness, and West Ham
In the summer of 2016 Pep Guardiola became the new manager of Manchester City, and wasted no time in revamping the club’s squad in accordance with his tried and tested tactical approach. Hart was dropped by the Spaniard almost immediately, with Pep seeking a goalkeeper with better footwork to play in a sweeper-keeper role. His new manager’s lack of faith coupled with an underwhelming performance at Euro 2016 presented Hart with the most challenging period of his career, and after making just one appearance for City in a Champions League qualifying match, he was sent on loan to Italian side Torino.
The move to Torino was a bizarre decision, as just weeks earlier Hart had been linked with moves to Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, and Milan. Perhaps the former Shrewsbury man was still holding on to a chance of becoming City’s No.1 again in the not so distant future.
Towards the end of the 2016/17 season however, Torino’s president Urbano Cairo decided not to keep Hart at the club, suggesting that the Englishman’s performance levels had dropped throughout the year. Torino conceded 66 goals in 38 league matches.
In July 2017 Hart signed a season-long loan deal with West Ham, with parent club Manchester City signing Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson Moraes. Hart conceded 10 goals in his first three matches for the Hammers, and following the arrival of David Moyes, the 30-year-old has been forced to sit on the bench, with second choice keeper Adrian becoming a regular starter. Pundits began to ask – how will Hart be able to play for England without minutes of the pitch?
So what the hell happened?
It’s genuinely hard to pinpoint where it all went wrong for Joe Hart, and what led to his current predicament. One thing for sure, is that when Pep Guardiola began to question Hart’s abilities, the footballing world at large began to question his abilities. But surely, Pep alone cannot be held responsible for the downfall of one of England’s most prominent internationals.
Considering his track record for club and country, Hart ‘should’ be England’s No.1. He ‘should’ be our Gianluigi Buffon. Yet at this point in time, selecting Hart is a massive risk for Gareth Southgate. If England’s defenders underperform at Russia 2018, the media focus will be on Hart, and ultimately, Southgate will carry the blame.
The intense negativity that has surrounded Hart over the last couple of seasons has not only affected his confidence, it has caused us – the fans, to forget many of his positive traits. Hart is an immensely passionate player, who takes great pride in brandishing the Three Lions, and England would benefit from having that sort of presence in the dressing room.
In terms of ability, Hart has all of the trademarks of a world class goalkeeper – under the right circumstances. He’s the sort of keeper that excels when he is called upon to make big saves in a match, but seems to crack under consistent pressure. This is why he was so effective at Man City, with the likes of Kompany and Lescott in front of hm, and less impressive at Torino and West Ham.
Our verdict: There are so many factors at play for Joe Hart to be considered for the England squad. Will he get enough games before the World Cup? Are England defensively solid enough?
With Butland, Pickford, Pope, and Heaton all in contention for a spot in Southgate’s XI, Hart will find himself way down on the pecking order, but having experience on the bench and passion in the dressing room is an absolute must. Plane to Russia.