At the age of 30 – theoretically, a peak year for a goalkeeper – Joe Hart should uncontested as England’s first-choice glovesman. And yet, the West Ham loanee finds himself facing bigger competition for the No.1 jersey ahead of the 2018 World Cup than he has at any point of his international career, spanning the best part of nine years.
That itself is as much an indictment on whether Hart’s truly deserving of the role going forward as it is an acknowledgement of the ability of the goalkeepers rivalling him for a place in Gareth Southgate’s plans next summer. Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton have all more than proved themselves at Premier League level, and the latter three have all earned England caps for the senior side in recent years. Any of the four would be solid alternatives to the Manchester City outcast.
Of course, the strongest factor working in Hart’s favour is experience. He’s been capped 73 times by England, featured regularly in the Champions League for City and has even tested himself in a foreign top flight – how many England players, let alone goalkeepers, can say that at this moment in time?
Experience is unquestionably important in international football, and especially for goalkeepers. But being the incumbent alone isn’t enough reason to maintain the current status quo; Hart must consistently produce a level of form that not only justifies his selection as England’s No.1 but also exceeds that of Butland, Forster, Pickford and Heaton.
And in truth, Hart’s struggled to deliver that since his final season at Manchester City when he conceded on average more than a goal per game, albeit still keeping 15 clean sheets. That was followed by a troubled Euro 2016 campaign, thwart with costly errors, and a loan spell with Torino where the 6 foot 5 Englishman hardly uprooted trees.
It’s been a similar story this season at West Ham too; although Hart has claimed the joint-most clean sheets of any English goalkeeper, tied with Ben Foster and Fraser Forster on three, he’s also conceded the most goals and made the fewest saves. The Irons haven’t started the season particularly well but the loan move to the London Stadium was meant to revive Hart’s struggling club career. Right now, it feels as if he’s simply going through the motions.
So, do you think Hart should be England’s No.1 goalkeeper when the World Cup comes around next summer? Let us know by voting below…