England goalkeeper Joe Hart may have gotten away with a clean sheet against Slovakia in the opening qualifying game for the 2018 World Cup, but the last-gasp win wouldn’t have lifted his spirits.
The 29-year-old was picked by the new England manager, Sam Allardyce, despite Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola dumping him. With no takers in the Premier League, Hart has had to join unfancied Serie A side Torino in a desperate bid to keep his England career afloat.
Guardiola wasn’t going to waste time with a goalkeeper whose skill level has not matched the demands at the highest level, in an era dominated by Germany’s Manuel Neuer.
The Manchester City manager, having had the services of Neuer at Bayern Munich before heading to England, wanted someone who can play as the sweeper like the German does to let the team play a high line.
Hart’s fumbles in England colours haven’t helped his cause, either. Few sprang to his support, in contrast to the support even German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger received after Jose Mourinho banished him from the senior Manchester United set-up.
On Sunday, Hart was lucky to start in Trnava against Slovakia thanks to Southampton ‘keeper Fraser Forster pulling out due to a shoulder injury. And he was shaky in the first half. He botched a clearance with one of his first touches, finding a Slovakia player. But England had a lucky escape. It sent Twitter into overdrive, all backing Guardiola’s decision to shunt Hart out.
It is the latest example of fallen standards in an area England used to match the world’s best.
The save by England custodian Gordon Banks, a 1966 World Cup winner, off Pele in the 1970 edition is regarded as one of the iconic moments in the game’s history. And Banks was edged out of Leicester City at his peak by a young Peter Shilton, who succeeded Banks under the England bar and held the job for two decades.
Goalkeeping howlers have been a major area of concern for England’s suffering fans, but there doesn’t seem to be any decent replacement available for Hart at the moment.
At Euro 2016, where England were eliminated by Iceland in the second round, Hart announced he hardly had any work to do, only to be left embarrassed.
He was ridiculed after letting in four of the five shots that came his way. Nothing was more embarrassing than his ill-timed dive which saw Gareth Bale’s free kick slip through, though England escaped to victory over Wales in that league game.
Hart’s fumbling played its part in England being knocked out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the first time they were eliminated in the group stages since 1958.
In the 2010 edition in South Africa, it was Rob Green’s howler that left the team wringing its hands in despair. He let in a tame shot from Clint Dempsey to let US get away with a draw in the opening game. The howler was described as a “basic schoolboy error”. So, who could have England chosen instead of Green? Hart!
The warning signs had been there for long. At the 2002 World Cup, Ronaldinho saw David Seaman off his line and left him flailing with a long range attempt during the eventual champions’ comeback win over England.
England is home to the world’s richest football league, but the EPL, which started in 1992, has also been blamed for home-bred goalkeepers not delivering at the highest level.
For starters, the Premiership teams don’t put in the effort to hone the skills of top goalkeepers at home. Focused on success, they are happy to shop around the world. And once a goalkeeper settles in for years, it blocks fresh talent.
The reluctance of English players to move to continental Europe, unless pushed or paid heavily, hasn’t helped either.
As of now, only four Premiership teams have English ’keepers. And West Bromwich, Stoke City, Southampton and Burnley won’t exactly be fighting for the league title.