Why is Joe Hart still at a career crossroads?
Two years on from Pep Guardiola's arrival at Manchester City and Joe Hart is still in the same position as he was then. In fact, it could be argued that he’s actually worse-off. At least when the former FC Barcelona boss arrived, the 31-year-old was still firmly established as England’s Number one goalkeeper. Now he finds himself on the sidelines; completely missing out on Gareth Southgate's World Cup squad. So how did Hart find himself in this situation? How does he get out of it?
In Hart’s defence, Guardiola made a very late decision on Hart when he first took charge. This meant that the ex-Shrewsbury Town man had very few options upon being deemed surplus to requirements. To Hart’s credit, he did what very few English players have done and took the opportunity to try his hand overseas. He opted for a twelve-month loan deal with Torino, in Italy’s Serie A. However this transfer didn't quite work out. In fact, it ended with Torino's president perplexed at how many mistakes the goalkeeper made.
During 2017/18 Hart move out on loan again. This time he stayed in the Premier League with West Ham, but the end result was rather similar... Although he started the season as first choice, things changed when David Moyes took over mid-season. The Scot decided to drop Hart in favour of Adrian and West Ham’s defensive fortunes improved. Faced with questions about Hart’s World Cup prospects, Moyes promised to give Hart another run in the team. The ex-Manchester United manager kept his word and reinstated Hart, but after more high-profile errors were committed, West Ham's leader stuck Adrian back in goal permanently impressive performance against Manchester City. The rest, as they say, is history, there was no place for Hart in England’s World Cup and it’s still abundantly clear that he has no future at City.
So, first, we must ask, how has England’s longtime number one, a man once considered among the best in the league (many once saw him as vastly superior to the goalkeeper on the other side of Manchester) gotten himself into this position? Firstly it would seem that, for too long, Hart has been resting on his laurels.
Untouchable for both club and country, Hart has perhaps allowed himself to get too complacent and this has allowed mistakes to creep in. Many have said the shot-stopper has always been error-prone, but the last two seasons seems to have magnified this. Secondly, Hart has been, on many occasions, accused of psyching himself up a little much. Pictures of his antics in the tunnel before games have often been cited as a cause of his issues. Perhaps it's time to get back to basics.
We must also question where he goes from here. If he wishes to stay in England, his Premier League opportunities look to be very limited. There are likely only a few clubs that are in the market for a new number one goalkeeper and of the ones that are, how many would be willing to take a chance on Hart, even on loan?
When West Ham appointed Manuel Pellegrini as manager, Hart’s former boss at Manchester City, I thought there may be an opportunity for a second chance. But recent reports suggest the Hammers are looking at Swansea’s Lukasz Fabianski, which would immediately close that opening. Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool could all be looking for a new goalkeeper, but, at the present time, would any of them really be likely to go for Hart as their preferred option?
Looking further down the league, there are perhaps only two or three sides that may look for a new goalkeeper. Brighton, having released Tim Krul, could be on the lookout for someone to challenge Matt Ryan, but would Hart move to a club where he was likely to start the season on the bench? This would leave him looking at two newly promoted sides, Cardiff and Fulham, who could both be looking to add some Premier League experience to their squads. That said, both could be better suited targeting a move for Sam Johnstone of Manchester United. He spent last season with Aston Villa and greatly impressed.
Both Brighton and Fulham would represent a big step down for the Englishman, but perhaps that is what he needs. Sometimes you have to move backwards to progress. Maybe this could kick-start his career. Hart is a proud man and it may require some swallowed pride. This may be the only answer if he wants to continue plying his trade on the big stage.