Joe Hart looks set to continue in his No.1 berth during England’s qualifiers against Slovenia and Lithuania this week but by the time the World Cup in Russia comes around next summer, the West Ham shot-stopper, on loan from Manchester City, may find himself dethroned by a younger, hungrier rival.
It’s hard to discredit a goalkeeper so experienced at international level and so proven in the Premier League, where the men between the sticks are arguably put under more pressure than in any top flight around Europe. But the fact of the matter is that Hart’s errors cost England dearly at Euro 2016 and the uncertainty over his career at club level has affected his consistency during the last three years.
Similarly, now 30 years of age, if current ability represents Hart’s peak, Three Lions fans have a right to believe one if not some of England’s other glovesmen have the potential to exceed that in the coming years. Hart’s always been on the peripheries of the very best in the business, but never quite broken into that bracket.
And looking around the Premier League, it’s Jack Butland who appears his most natural heir. In fact, before suffering a long-term injury during a friendly with Germany in 2016, the Stoke City goalkeeper was on the verge of usurping Hart as a strong first season replacing Asmir Begovic saw him rank in the top ten Premier League goalkeepers for saves, clean sheets and catches despite missing the final seven games of the campaign.
So far this term, Butland’s form hasn’t been quite so spectacular, keeping only one clean sheet and conceding 11 times from seven appearances amid a typically inconsistent start to the season from Mark Hughes’ side. But it certainly hasn’t been for a want of trying; Butland’s made 18 saves already this term, the joint-third most of any Premier League goalkeeper, and his best performances have been saved for the biggest tests that have come his way – a clean sheet against Arsenal that required a whopping six saves alone, later followed by another talismanic performance in the 2-2 draw with Manchester United.
While that can’t tick off the final criteria on the checklist of any top-class goalkeeper, experience and proven capability in the Champions League, it does suggest Butland would be up to the task of Europe’s top competition – the ultimate difference between Butland and Hart at this moment in time. United have already shown how effective they can be in Europe this season, demolishing FC Basel and CSKA Moscow, and although Arsenal are out of the competition this year, their squad is still overflowing with Champions League quality players – particularly in attack. Butland certainly didn’t look out of place against any of them.
Of course, much can change between now and the end of the season as Butland, who Transfermarkt value at £13.5million, learned so painfully in the buildup to Euro 2016. But as things stand, who would do you think should be England’s first-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup next summer? Let us know by voting below…