A little perspective needed with regards to Joe Hart

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart is an exceptional goalkeeper, perhaps the best currently operating in the Premier League, but every single time the clearly myopic David James refers to him as the best goalkeeper in the world, a small bubble of fury makes a knot in my stomach, because it’s simply not true.

Hart enjoyed an excellent campaign last term for the league champions, keeping 17 clean sheets in the top flight, the most of any goalkeeper in the league last season, a feat he repeated the season before with 18 clean sheets. That’s clearly not an accident and perhaps only David De Gea, Tim Krul or Michel Vorm can rival him in terms of ability and potential and he’s can be a true match-winner on his day.

However, it appears in our rush to label yet another one of our players as world-class before he actually is, we’ve fallen into the trap that dogged the media during the Golden Generation and we’re in danger of hyping Hart up far too much before his time.

David James has repeatedly argued against all reason, common sense and logic that Hart is the best goalkeeper in the world for some time now. It really is a blinkered view also helped by the fact that James knows Hart from their time with England together – he’s essentially just saying his friend is the best and his reasoning is threadbare to say the least.

Here’s what he said just two weeks ago: “The fans love him and regard him as the best goalkeeper in England by far. For years, Gianluigi Buffon was my favourite, but now it’s Joe Hart. I watch a lot of European football and I can’t think of a keeper who’s impressed me more. It’s difficult to set the criteria by which you decide who the world’s best keeper currently is, but I watch a lot of European football, and I can’t think of a keeper who’s impressed me more.

“I think that Gianluigi is still an extraordinary goalie, but he’s had a lot of injuries and that has caused his level to drop somewhat … Buffon is excellent at stopping mid-range shots and at positioning himself, but his kicking game is not what it should be. [Iker] Casillas has amazing reflexes, but he has trouble with crosses and he’s average with the ball at his feet. Joe, meanwhile, is good at all these things, which makes him the most complete keeper playing at present.”

That’s right folks, Iker Casillas, the first player in history to have won 100 games at international level with Spain and who has played for Real Madrid for well over a decade is bad with the ball at his feet – it literally beggars belief. The former England goalkeeper has always been known to be a bit of an unusual character off the pitch, straddling the line between pomposity and pretentiousness like an Adonis, but he appears to be confusing the word ‘best’ with ‘favourite’ here.

Here is what James has to say back in May: “Joe is better than Casillas. He [Casillas] is recognised as number one because he’s won the World Cup, European Championship and has been fortunate to be at one of the biggest clubs in Europe for years. But Joe’s distribution is 10 times better than Casillas’. He makes all the saves, he takes all the crosses. He can do much more than Casillas. If Casillas was in the Premier League, he’d struggle. Put him in Wolves’ team. See how good he is then. Joe is head and shoulders above everyone else.”

This sounds an awful lot like the ‘could Lionel Messi do it on a wet Wednesday in Stoke’ argument, it’s absolute nonsense. To be fair to James, though, at least he hasn’t strayed too far from his quite baffling company line that British is best, never mind that the facts or conventional wisdom don’t back him up.

Hart is clearly a very good goalkeeper, but it appeared as if there was a collective mind-melt during Euro 2012 to praise him for what were some deeply average performances. He should have done better with Nasri’s goal at his near post in the opener against France and was nowhere to be seen on both Sweden goals, where was his much-vaunted ‘takes all the crosses’ attitude then, eh?

It appears as if it’s more because we’re grateful that the country doesn’t have to put up with the likes of David James, Robert Green and Paul Robinson between the sticks any more that we are willing to proclaim Hart the best thing since sliced bread for the national team. At Euro 2012, he flapped at anything that came near him, was far from composed and made a fool of himself during the penalty shoot-out against Italy at the quarter-final stage.

We can be thankful that he’s our best goalkeeper since David Seaman, but until he’s done it consistently in the Champions League and for England, then perhaps it’s a little too early to label him ‘world-class’ and the best goalkeeper in the world. He could one day be the best goalkeeper in the world, but he’s not yet and he looks a completely different player in an England shirt to when he’s playing for his club. The calm, composed and authoratitive figure we see in the Premier League disappears and he’s shaky, whether that’s down to nerves or not remains to be seen, but there’s a noticeable drop in performance. I can’t be the only one who thought during Euro 2012 that Hart was far from his best and he hardly inspired confidence.

Like I’ve said, he could potentially be the best goalkeeper in the world one day and for my money he’s got more to his game than his potential rival for the accolade, Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer. He’s only likely to go from strength to strength at City in the meantime, especially keeping in mind his age, in what promises to be a hugely successful period for the club, but to claim him as the best in the world simply because he plays in our league and happens to be English is complete and utter folly and lacks any form of substantive reasoning behind it and there’s really only the biased ramblings of a former team-mate to back this weighty claim up.

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