Last chance saloon. No room for mistakes. In the buildup to England’s game against Germany on Tuesday, you’d think that Joe Hart was starring in some kind of hostage movie, rather than approaching a friendly.
The papers have played no small part in the vice-like pressure swirling around the Manchester City goalkeeper, with the Guardian suggesting Hart’s international career is on the line. Whilst a poor performance on Tuesday would be extremely bad news, the suggestion that Hart’s tenure with England is approaching its end is fanciful at best.
Hart has suffered from a well-documented lack of competition at City, with the downturn in form and confidence beginning well before Manuel Pellegrini’s arrival at the Etihad. It is interesting that no fingers have been seriously pointed at Pellegrini or his predecessor Roberto Mancini for continuing to play Hart even when it was clear the goalkeeper was seriously struggling.
Mancini in particular was very quick to lambast Hart in public when the goalkeeper unwisely chose to call out his team on their failings last season. Though Hart may have been more sensible to keep his sentiments to himself, there has been very little support shown by his management at City.
Hart may not necessarily have helped his own case at times. There was an palpable air of cockiness around the goalkeeper around the time of Manchester City’s dominance the season before last. But that will have come from a feeling he was untouchable – and he was, because again there was no competition.
Through all this pressure it is worth remembering the reason why Hart made it the heights that he did – he is an athletic shotstopper with superb reactions and generally very good positioning. Weaknesses at crosses and knowing when to come out need to be worked on, certainly. But it is too early to start speaking of career Armageddon.
Tuesday night will be an opportunity for Hart to prove he is the goalkeeper he was before the glare of an unforgiving public began to unsettle him. If it goes badly he may be warming the bench for a little longer, but ultimately the Joe Hart of old can be recovered.