Joe Hart with Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola Set For A Hart Transplant

There were rumours but few gave them credence. This, after all, was the land of Banks, Shilton, Clemence, Seaman; being England’s Number One carries a certain kudos in football. No matter the manager, to be the first choice in the bosom of football requires a certain ability.

That was shattered in France this summer.

Joe Hart endured rather than enjoyed Euro 2016. Criticised for the goal he conceded to Gareth Bale in England’s 2 – 1 win over Wales, he was lambasted for Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s winner for Iceland in Nice.

The goals were remarkably similar. Bale’s free kick from distance, Sigthorsson’s from the edge of the area. Both found the net for one reason: Joe Hart’s weak hands. The England goalkeeper failed to deal with the shots, palming them into the net rather than to safety.

Even so, he wasn’t the first England goalkeeper to make a high profile error. Seaman was beaten inexplicably from distance in 2002 by Ronaldinho; Paul Robinson’s air kick summed up Steve McClaren’s reign perfectly and many Scots can tell you where they were when Kenny Dalglish’s shot crawled through Ray Clemence’s legs at Hampden Park in 1976.

None have suffered the ignominy which is current besetting Joe Hart.

A new season, a fresh start. Manchester City appointed Pep Guardiola earlier in the year and Hart, like the rest of the Citizens squad, were keen to impress the most successful club manager currently working in one of Europe’s major leagues.

Joe Hart

Whispers began to emerge. Hart was struggling with the style of play Guardiola was imposing on the team, particularly on the goalkeepers. The Spaniard has always favoured a footballing goalkeeper; the so-called ‘Sweeper Keeper’.

At Bayern Munich, he worked with the top of the class, Manuel Neuer. The German international was as key to the German champions as any outfield player, keeping the pressure on opponents by intercepting attacks and making himself available for team-mates when needed.

It’s a style which compresses the play, keeping pressure on the opposition by quickly recycling the ball. The philosophy underpinned his success at the Allianz Arena, certainly overwhelming Bundesliga foes.

Neuer is rated as one of the best goalkeepers in the business but at Barcelona, few considered Victor Valdes as anything other than average. He won just 20 caps for his country – as well as representing Catalunya a dozen times – but was never able to usurp Iker Casillas.

But his medal haul is phenomenal. During Guardiola’s reign at the Camp Nou, he won 3 La Liga titles, 2 Copa Del Rey, 3 Spanish Supercopa, 2 Champions League, 2 European Super Cup, 2 FIFA Club World Cups.

How could anyone be considered ‘average’ with that haul? Easy; Guardiola trusted him. Valdes was capable of playing the football with either foot and was comfortable doing so. He was close to being an ever-present with this ability a prominent reason why.

Prone to making errors with his handling, Valdes was forgiven his foibles. With that history, Joe Hart might wonder why he appears to be on the verge of leaving the Etihad.

Pep Guardiola

As soon as Hart returned to training, Guardiola seems to have had serious reservations about the England man. His doubts probably started the moment he had discussions with the City hierarchy over taking on the manager’s role.

The Spaniard is a football obsessive; there’s little doubt he had videos of all Manchester City’s matches from last season. It would come as no surprise if he had watched them from the season before as well.

He would have immediately seen a fundamental weakness in Hart’s game: his distribution. Whilst the errors for England at Euro 2016 were handling, Hart received criticism in the media over his kicking and throwing. He lack accuracy and imagination in delivering the ball to team-mates but crucially, he was ponderous. Guardiola will tolerate weaknesses in some areas but not this.

In pre-season, it has seemingly become clear to Pep that Hart isn’t going to improve significantly. His thinking crystallised in his team selection for Saturday’s opening Premier League fixture at home to Sunderland. Hart was dropped and veteran Argentinean goalkeeper Willy Caballero, at 34, was Guardiola’s preferred choice.

If Hart was unimpressed, watching England manager Sam Allardyce was even less so. There’s no doubt sitting on the bench will damage the City goalkeeper’s international career. With Fraser Forster and Jack Butland both impressing during last season’s Premier League, there is pressure on Hart to be first choice at club level if he wants to retain his national spot.

Can he do it? There’s no doubt Hart is a good goalkeeper but his form over the past two years has been erratic. Being error-prone for club and country is not a healthy mix. Crucially, he hasn’t displayed the intelligence Guardiola values so highly. Being a ‘Sweeper Keeper’ requires high levels of concentration and athleticism, combining into good decision making. Pep, it would seem, doesn’t see that in Hart.

If choosing Caballero was a hammer blow, the £21.7m offer made to Barcelona for Claudio Bravo is a knockout punch. The Chilean is reported to be arriving in Manchester on Thursday ahead of a medical and will be joining with a view to being Guardiola’s first choice. Hart is coveted by Everton and surprisingly the Europa League winners for the past three seasons, Sevilla. A new start might resurrect a fading career.

It’s ruthless; it’s typical Pep. A mild mannered – almost schoolmasterly – appearance masks a determined coach. He’s not uncaring – far from it; he’s simply a winner and nothing stands in his way. Without sentimental attachment to a player or club, he is the new broom City needed. Joe Hart, it seems, is his highest profile casualty.

About the Author Moha

Hardcore fun of the beautiful game. Played soccer for different clubs in my country before hanging up my boots. Now writer for My Soccer HQ

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