Hard not to feel sorry for Joe Hart – a keeper heading for a cheap exit

Date published: Thursday 15th June 2017 12:22

He might well be England’s No. 1, just, but the future does not look bright for Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Hart’s over-ebullience in the tunnel and perceived arrogance has served as an irritant to England supporters in the past, but even the goalkeeper’s fiercest of critics will find it difficult not to feel sorry for situation he currently finds himself in.

Having been shooed out of the door at Manchester City by new manager Pep Guardiola and embarking on a brave, yet ultimately unsuccessful, loan stint at Torino last season, Hart’s misfortune was compounded on Tuesday night as Tom Heaton started between the sticks in England’s 3-2 loss to France in Paris.

International friendlies lend themselves to the rotation of players and Gareth Southgate was quick to reaffirm Hart’s standing as the team’s “No.1” after the game, but consider that the other 10 positions on the field were filled by England’s best players and it’s clear to see that Southgate is uncertain about the goalkeeping situation.

Hart’s questionable positioning for Leigh Griffiths’ two free-kick goals in the 2-2 draw against Scotland just two days earlier will certainly have been factored in the equation.

Performances of this kind have become all too frequent and now with the spotlight fixated on him after a disastrous Euro 2016 they won’t go unnoticed.

Hart’s commitment to Torino, the Italian lessons and the professionalism, was rightly commended by Italian commentators, but not even this sparkling attitude could hide the facts.

“We probably didn’t expect so many mistakes from an England international but he did some good things too,” said Torino president Urbano Cairo – a politely worded acknowledgement that Hart had not lived up to expectations.

Lost in the midst of all this however is the excellent 2015/2016 season in which Hart was one of Manuel Pellegrini’s most reliable players, keeping 15 clean sheets and averaging an impressive 96% claim success rate. That campaign is now recognised as the one that preceded the decline whereby Hart’s confidence was dismembered in France, his blunders possibly convincing Guardiola to give him the boot.

At 30-years-old, there are now legitimate concerns over Hart’s club and international career. As Everton and Sunderland negotiate the finishing touches to a £30million deal for Jordan Pickford and Asmir Begovic prepares for life on the south coast following his £10million switch from Chelsea to Bournemouth, Hart – 71 England caps and the holder of the most amount of Premier League Golden Glove awards (4) – rather miraculously still awaits an offer.

Yes, Hart has lost some authority in the last year but he still has a highly attractive skill-set and wealth of experience that many Premier League clubs would benefit from. So what gives?

Part of the problem is that most potential suitors are unwilling to match the £175,000-a-week he currently earns at City, believing goalkeepers of a similar level can be signed for much less money.

At the end of the 2015/2016 season there’d have been no question about Hart’s superiority over Begovic but a year of tribulation for the former Shrewsbury Town stopper has changed things and now, in the eyes of Premier League managers, perhaps there’s very little to separate them. Hart for £175,000-a-week or Begovic for £60,000-a-week? It’s an easy choice.

City’s tendency to hand out big pay packets has made it difficult for them to sell on players who would ordinarily command solid fees in today’s inflated market. In the last two seasons Samir Nasri, Wilfried Bony and Eliaquim Mangala have been loaned rather than bought outright by clubs who just cannot afford to pay their weekly demands.

The end result usually involves City paying a significant portion of the player’s wages until their contract expires, or selling the player for a bargain fee to get him off the wage bill as they did with this term’s Serie A top scorer Edin Dzeko in 2015.

And so news that West Ham would prefer to loan the keeper rather than matching City’s £18million valuation this summer may not surprise City supporters. Hart is now considered to be a risk and his desperation to get his career back on track puts the Hammers in a position of strength heading into negotiations. The decline, the age, the high salary, and the commitment to helping a club legend resolve his future puts City in a position of weakness.

Questioned on his future, the City goalkeeper gave a typically honest response: “I need an offer first and then I need to work out my options if I have choices.

“I’m not a kid any more. I can’t just pack my stuff like a 19, 17-year-old and go on loan. I am a 30-year-old man with stuff I need to organise. I like stability.

“I’ve got nothing at the moment because I think people are focused on international duty and respecting that players are focusing on international duty.”

If Hart does find the stability he seeks in this transfer window, it’s likely to be on the cheap.

@adambailey__

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