Joe Hart has – in the words of the song from the iconic ‘Italian Job’ movie – been forced to join the ‘self preservation society’ by Pep Guardiola.
The new City boss has blown the ‘bloody doors off’ Hart’s Manchester City career, as the deposed keeper is left with little option but to join Torino on a season long loan deal to Serie A.
Pep’s pedigree as the pre-eminent manager in world football isn’t in doubt; therefore neither should his judgment calls be questioned, especially less than two months into his tenure at the Etihad.
But, and there’s so often a ‘but’, it doesn’t make Joe’s departure any the more regrettable for the majority of City supporters.
Of course the 29-year old has his well documented shortcomings with his distribution, his comfort levels with the ball at his feet and, more recently, a propensity for being vulnerable to shots low down to his left.
Hart is still one of the best goalkeepers on the planet, it’s just that he doesn’t fit Guardiola’s playing style – the fabled ‘sweeper keeper’ – where quickness of thought and deed sets up attacks, rarely surrendering possession.
It makes it all the more curious that the present day guardians and purveyors of the Pep ‘brand’ at Barcelona, were fulsome in their praise of Hart when they were combatants in the Champions League.
Lionel Messi – remember Joe saved his penalty – described Hart as ‘phenomenal’ and ‘fantastic’, Andres Iniesta praised Hart as ‘outstanding’, while Barca boss, Luis Enrique went so far as to say that City’s longest serving player was ‘incredible’.
Who in sky blue, will ever forget the one man Hart-stopping performance in the Catalan capital in 2015, when City lost 1-0 but it could so easily have been by five or six, had it not been for Joe’s brilliance.
How ironic that the Champions League, so often the Achilles Heel of City under Mancini and Pellegrini, provided a showcase for all that was best in Hart’s goalkeeping repertoire.
When Borussia Dortmund swarmed all over Bobby Manc’s blues at the Etihad in October 2012, it was a virtuoso Hart performance that saved the day, albeit a last gasp Balotelli penalty ultimately bagged the point.
It was virtually Joe against the Germans as he thwarted Gotze, Lewandowski and a certain Ilkay Gundogan, in a mesmerizing goalkeeping display.
And, as we reflect on Joe’s 348 first team appearances, a third truly stellar showing springs to mind, down at White Hart Lane when Hart made a return to City from a season long loan at Birmingham.
Having been given the nod by Mancini over Shay Given, Hart was literally unbeatable as Spurs dominated in a thrilling 0-0 draw.
As a loan spell in Turin now beckons, it’s difficult – nigh on impossible – to see Joe making such a glorious return for a second time.
Pep’s brilliance is already evident with City winning all five games this season, displaying a tempo and intensity rarely witnessed under the more languid rule of Manuel Pellegrini.
Hart’s replacement, Claudio Bravo, is rightly regarded as among the world’s goalkeeping elite and is the archetypal ‘Pep’ keeper.
The 33-year old Chilean, captain of his national team and the most capped player in his country’s history, is a truly class act and, in all fairness, superior to Hart on many fronts.
He’s led Chile to consecutive Copa America tournament wins in 2015 and 2016 (twice beating Sergio Aguero’s Argentina in penalty shoot outs in the final.)
Contrast that achievement with Hart’s inglorious personal displays, as England’s Three Lions failed to raise a meow, let alone a roar, at Euro 2016.
Nonetheless, the irony is clear to see, Bravo has left Barcelona and the trio of Hart admirers, Messi, Iniesta and Enrique, to replace the man so lauded by the Nou Camp perfectionists.
There’s a sad realization at the Etihad that Hart, despite being a superb keeper – you don’t win two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and four Golden Gloves without an abundance of talent – is a square peg in a round hole under Guardiola.
In an age of ridiculous transfer fees and obscene player wages (Joe has been handsomely rewarded during his time at City) there is, nonetheless, a certain emotional investment from the ‘terraces’ in a long-serving player who had no wish to leave the club.
Joe was instrumental in City’s renaissance in recent years, with perhaps the most enduring image being an ecstatic Hart in his No 25 shirt careering round, arms outstretched like a madman, as Sergio did the business at 93:20 on May 13th, 2012.
Time moves on but surely to goodness there will always – ALWAYS – be a place in the heart of every Manchester City supporter for ‘Super Joey Hart…’
Arrivederci Joe, good luck and good fortune.
By David Walker
Dedicated to the memory of another departed ‘Joe’ – Joseph Colin Walker – the finest man I’ll ever know, who died this day, 20 years ago. A brilliant journalist and the kindest, most loving, considerate and compassionate of men, with a wickedly dry sense of humour. It was an honour and a privilege to call him ‘Dad’. Love you Pa 😉
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu