It’s a nervy time for Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart right now. For any player, being dropped for league matches is unpleasant. But just six months before the World Cup, the former Shrewsbury shotstopper will be desperate to get himself back in the first team, and prove to Roy Hodgson that he is the best keeper in the country. Whilst Celtic shot stopper Fraser Forster can only prove himself in the SPL, after the club were knocked out of the Champions League, Hart will still be aware of the threat the Glasgow-based man brings.
It’s not new for England to go into an international tournament without a clear number 1. In 2010, Fabio Capello refused to name who out of David James, Joe Hart and Robert Green would start the opening game of their campaign against South Africa. Just a few hours before kick off, the Italian told Green that he would start against the Americans. It was a match that the then West Ham shot stopper would never forget.
5 minutes before half time, Clint Dempsey scuffed a long range shot that comfortably trickled to Green, who watched as the ball bounced through his limp hand and into the England net. It was a howler just 40 minutes into England’s World Cup campaign, and one that would go on to sum up their group stage efforts. England drew the game 1-1, and only just qualified for the last 16, finishing 2nd in the group. This would prove to be costly as they were then beaten 4-1 by Germany in the next round.
Green, who was supported by Capello in his post-match press conference, was dropped for England’s next game against Algeria, and that would be the end of his tournament. The Hammer wouldn’t feature again in South Africa, or indeed under Capello. Green has since played for England once, in a friendly in 2012, as his international career looks to have finished.
But can Hodgson allow Hart to fall into a similar trap? The City keeper has been full of mistakes over the last 18 months, leading to Manuel Pellegrini playing Costel Pantilimon in the Premier League ahead of the Englishman. But does Hodgson need to publically show his support for Hart, to try and rebuild the 26-year-old’s confidence? The public backing from the England manager, stating that Hart is the country’s best and will be his number 1 for the World Cup, could be everything the City keeper needs to hear, to help him get back to his best.
And is it only Hodgson that needs to start rebuilding Hart’s confidence? The press have repeatedly criticised Hart for his mistakes, more severely the more it happens. And whilst players often say they don’t read the papers, he will obviously be aware of how much media coverage his recent form has received, and the comments being said about him. Whilst it’s the job for journalists to write about this, is there a point where we must support our national players ahead of the tournament in Brazil?
Confidence in football is key. Players will play to their best when their spirits are high, and have belief in their ability. Where as players questioning themselves and thinking about their recent mistakes are always set to struggle to break their poor run of form. Whilst Green’s mistake was a one off error, like every keeper will experience, he had a lack of preparation ahead of the match, with Capello only naming him hours before kick off. With time to mentally prepare, and early support, Hart could be back to his best in Manaus. The City shot stopper needs to regain his confidence, and Hodgson, along with the press, can help restore the 26-year-old’s real ability.