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Joe Hart opens new chapter of turbulent England career in Slovakia victory
England’s last-gasp World Cup Qualifying victory against Slovakia on Sunday was the dawn of a new era for Joe Hart as he seeks to hold onto the No.1 position for the Three Lions in the wake of a surprise year-long loan move to Torino.
They say that the world’s best goalkeepers ripen with age. Not Joe Hart.
The twenty-nine-year-old stopper is as error-prone as he was six years ago when he announced himself on the international scene in the wake of the 2010 World Cup. Hart has enjoyed a virtually unchallenged reign as the Manchester City and England No.1 over the past six years, yet his stellar career has been littered with high-profile gaffes.
He had come close to being dropped on multiple occasions for both City and the England national team, but new City boss Pep Guardiola is the first manager to have had the boldness to actually make the cut, casting Hart into unfamiliar territory. The Shrewsbury Town academy graduate joined Italian Serie A side Torino on a year-long loan just days before the transfer window shut after Guardiola made it clear he was not a part of City’s first-team plans.
Hart’s standing had been called into question immediately after Guardiola’s takeover, having sat the bench for the majority of preseason, and the signing of Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was the nail in the coffin for the England international.
For the first time, a massive question mark also looms over Hart’s starting position with the Three Lions. The last England international to win a cap whilst playing outside of the UK was goalkeeper Scott Carson in 2011. Before that, David Beckham.
Englishmen have scarcely succeeded abroad since the 1990s and as such, there’s a natural distrust of these players in a national team setup that heavily favors the domestic game. For Hart, the move has been viewed as a massive step down and leaves him little room for error with the national team.
He appeared to have eradicated the mistakes that marred his early career with England and City, such as an infamous howler against Poland in 2012, a mishap versus Scotland the next year, and many, many more errors.
He was generally solid in the two years leading up to Euro 2016 but came under fire in France for his mistakes in England’s woeful quarterfinal exit to Iceland. That tournament has seemingly spawned a mid-career crisis for the England goalkeeper.
It appears unlikely, though, that he’ll lose the England starting position anytime soon, largely due to a lack of competition. Fraser Forster, England’s current No.2, has rarely appeared for the national team and is already aged twenty-eight, while Tom Heaton, the No.3 in France, is even older. Perhaps Hart’s closest rival, Stoke City’s Jack Butland, was sidelined with injury over the summer and is set to be out for another two months due to surgery on his ankle.
The same was the case at Manchester City, where first Costel Pantilimon and then Willy Caballero failed to dislodge Hart from his starting position. If his current situation stands for anything, though, it’s a warning that he must now watch his back at all times.
Although he didn’t have much work to do against Slovakia, England fans collectively caught their breath after a botched clearance attempt. Nothing came of it, but Hart is well aware of the costliness of another potential mistake at such an important crossroads in his career.
Homepage photo credit: Ben Sutherland [CC BY 2.0], via Wikipedia Commons