Joe Hart – from Shrewsbury to the Santiago Bernabeu
In addition to its long-standing reputation as one of English football’s premier cup competitions, the League Cup’s record of showcasing the talents of football’s brightest young things has increasingly become its trademark. As we look forward to the next round of the Capital One Cup, FootballFanCast is taking a look at just some of the famous faces to have cut their teeth in the competition.
Charles Joseph John Hart, or Joe, as he’s better known, is today England’s established and undisputed number one, as well as the custodian of choice for Roberto Mancini’s Premier League champions, Manchester City. It’s been a steep rise in fortunes for the 25-year-old, who began his career in the Conference with Shrewsbury Town and first made an impact on the radars of Premier League clubs in 2005-6, as an ever-present for Shrewsbury.
He conceded more than a goal per game in League Two, but the 55 goals Shrewsbury conceded in their 46-game season were by no means abnormally high for the division. Hart also made two appearances in the League Cup that year, helping the Shrews to overcome Brighton, who were two divisions above them, and keeping Championship title contenders Sheffield United goalless throughout the second round before the Blades knocked Shrewsbury out on penalties. At the end of the season, partly because of this strong form against higher-level opposition, as well as his displays for the England under-19s, Hart sealed a move to Manchester City.
Since then, it’s been one season of growth for another. Hart had to bide his time in his first year with City, making one appearance in the Premier League as the third-choice goalkeeper behind Andreas Isaksson and Nicky Weaver, and spending large portions of his season on loan, with Tranmere Rovers and later Blackpool. It then took a full-season loan at Birmingham to not only assure new City boss Mancini of the young Hart’s development, but also earn him a place in Fabio Capello’s England World Cup squad.
With former rival Shay Given having left the Etihad Stadium, Hart is now firmly installed as City’s goalkeeper of the future, and with an FA Cup and Premier League under his gloves, the West Country boy is sure to be hungry for more. He has continued to show his incredible shot-stopping and distribution qualities as City have developed into a continental force over the past two seasons, something which only builds on his standing as England’s undisputed number one.
Playing behind the Manchester City and England defences, of course, is a sure way for a goalkeeper to gain in confidence and ability. The relationship between centre-backs and goalkeepers is always touted as one of the most important on the football pitch, and in the likes of Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Cahill, Hart is working with some of the best. He’s also publicly expanded his leadership role at the Etihad this season, calling out his teammates in an ITV interview after their Champions’ League defeat to Real Madrid.
To develop into a truly world-class keeper, Hart may one day need to have some threat to his place in the team; the competition certainly seems to be doing Brad Friedel some good at Tottenham, as the veteran American fends off Heurelho Gomes, Carlo Cudicini and now Hugo Lloris between the sticks.
That, of course, is not for Hart to worry about. He needs only to focus on his own development – and anyone who follows English football will know how well that is going so far.