Joe Hart used to be championed as the best goalkeeper in world, much to the annoyance of those who were aware the game existed outside of England.
The Manchester City keeper really caught the eye while on loan at Birmingham City, performing to such a high level that he immediately replaced Shay Given upon his return to the Etihad stadium. But has complacency set in? Is it that feeling that as England’s only obvious No. 1 he can get away with mistakes that should now be eradicated from his game? Youth isn’t too much of an issue; Hart has regularly displayed the talent and mentality to more than suggest he belongs. But clearly something isn’t right.
The story of the week is that City, under Roberto Mancini, were considering Asmir Begovic last season, leading to Stoke tying up a replacement earlier this year. Mancini was clearly at odds with his goalkeeper, notably during the Champions League, and it wouldn’t have been too out of character for the Italian to drop Hart in favour of a new goalkeeping signing, had he remained at the club of course.
So was Hart overhyped? Well not really. England loves to take the next big thing and run with, and fortunately for City, Hart managed to keep pace, becoming a vital piece of the title-winning side of 2011-12. Perhaps he was riding the wave of an entire squad who were in good form, as even he dipped with the rest of the City players last season, failing to retain the league title and make any kind of improvement in the Champions League.
Though for Joe Hart it’s more than that and doesn’t simply boil down to him latching onto the good form of others. He’s a keeper who often displays overwhelming confidence, both in his ability and in key games throughout the season. He has the mentality to remain focused and even to come out on top when faced with a spot kick.
But following City’s surprise loss away to Cardiff City on Sunday, there can be little doubt that Hart is experiencing the kind of lull that could eventually cost the club big over the course of the season – and arguably already has in the past. That confidence can be mistaken for arrogance, a level of self worth that stems from the player not quite knowing when to get off the media train. And let’s be honest, the media in this country aren’t about to quieten down when there’s a player in the ranks who could do something to enhance England’s credentials at an international tournament.
On his day, Hart is one of the better goalkeepers in England, though I’d argue that he isn’t quite deserving of a place among the best in Europe. At least not yet. Maybe Mancini was trying to get a rise out of him, much in the same way that managers like Jose Mourinho like to do. Someone needs to bring Hart back down to earth and offer him that humbling feeling that the world hasn’t quite been conquered yet.
For Hart, stats may say one thing, but a lot is in what can be seen at face value. He’s making mistakes that shouldn’t be made at his level. Part of it could be to do with the idea that maybe he doesn’t have a challenge left anymore. Sure, battling for the league title is one thing, but what about career progression? Is there a Real Madrid or Barcelona waiting for him? Well no, he’s English so the natural career path would be to remain close to home. With City, he’s already at one of the biggest and most competitive clubs in the country; there is no ladder leading to Manchester United.
Competition and renewed focus can be key. But the rediscovering the confidence to be one of the best is the most important aspect, one that shouldn’t be muddied and confused with cockiness.
Has Joe Hart fallen victim to his own hype?
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