England fans are notorious for being over optimistic before the start of a big tournament. In pubs around the country the phrase ‘this is our best chance yet’ can often be heard and there is an overwhelming belief in the nation’s ability to finally once again win a big tournament. Whilst this phrase may be true, with England having arguably their best squad and manager for years, there are still chinks in the armour. The goalkeeping spot is possibly the weakest it has been for years. Capello has been forced to persist with keepers who have sometimes given error strewn performances this season and the Italian does not know where to look for his number one, yet the answer, in my opinion, is no further than Birmingham.
I have been a Joe Hart fan ever since his move to Manchester City from Shrewsbury Town back in 2006 and it is great to see some young English goalkeeping talent. Whilst Hart has had an impressive season all round, it is recently that he has been really excelling and you have to wonder what the boy ate on Christmas day because the performances that followed were nothing short of sublime. With Capello scratching his head over the number one spot for South Africa, pundits and fans alike have been urging the ex-Real Madrid manager to give the Birmingham man a chance to prove his worth on the international stage.
Birmingham manager Alex McLeish has supported the calls for Hart’s international call-up, admitting that his performances have been of the highest quality recently. McLeish said:
“His form has been terrific recently. I know Joe will say that a lot of this is down to the lads in front of him but speaking as a former centre half, I know you need confidence in the man behind you. I know the England coaching staff think a lot of him. And people in general will begin to think a lot more of him too, because of his performances for Birmingham.”
Hart has recovered from a brief spell of bad form to become one of the Premier League’s finest goalkeepers this season. Errors against Burnley and Sunderland raised question marks over the shot stoppers form and after seasoned pro Maik Taylor filled in against Hart’s owners Manchester City; many thought that the youngster would begin to play second fiddle to the more experienced Irishman.
However this was not the case, McLeish persisted with the young Hart and it has most certainly paid off. Hart has been key in the recent run that has seen the Blues go eleven undefeated and keep clean sheets in 6 of their last 10 Premier League games. McLeish’s side have rocketed into 8th position and sit just behind Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool in what has been a great first half of the season. Four points and two clean sheets over the Christmas period has continued the excellent form and Hart has been largely to thank for this. His performance against Chelsea was nothing short of stunning. Hart made a string of fine saves, including a point blank stop from Frank Lampard in which the keeper did not switch off as most of his side did, believing Lampard was offside. Hart also showed his bravery and willingness to fight for the cause as he put his head into a challenge where most would not put their feet. He suffered the consequences but his clean sheet remained intact. Hart followed up this performance with another fine display at the Britannia Stadium just two days later. After McLeish’s side managed to get themselves ahead, Hart produced another array of saves to keep out a determined Stoke side.
So should the youngster be considered for the England jersey? Why not? Robert Green’s performances as of late have been disappointing. The current England number one has made errors against both Bolton and Spurs and David James, whilst still being a great keeper, is not getting any younger and his season continues to be disrupted by injury. Critics may state Hart’s age in a case against him, and whilst the stopper is only 22, he has shown consistent improvement over the last few years and already has a lot of Premier League experience; he plays with a maturity of someone much older than himself. My opinion; get him on that plane.