Less than two years ago, the English media were praising a new hero and the answers to all their prayers. The emergence of Joe Hart as England’s preferred shot stopper laid rest the concerns by many about who would be England’s last line of defence for the future. Tall, athletic and young, Hart had it all and after stamping his place firmly in the uber rich Manchester City squad, it appeared as though he would become the next Peter Shilton or David Seaman, owning the No.1 shirt for club and country for years to come. But now after a series of blunders, both domestically and international, Hart’s position looks less secure.
To date, club manager Manuel Pellegrini and England boss Roy Hodgson have refused to be drawn on Harts future but noticeably neither has publically backed the player. Fans of the player will call his dip in form a temporary thing but the truth is that Hart has been making dramatic errors for over a year now. His latest mistake against Chelsea cost his team a valuable point but more than that it may have cost him his spot. Waiting patiently in the wings at City (or should that be bench) is giant Romanian stopper Costel Pantilimon The 6ft 8in keeper is a commanding figure between the posts but has yet to really be tested for the Manchester club apart from a few rare cup appearances. He has been patiently waiting his turn but if Romania manages to beat Greece in the playoffs next Month, Pantilimon will want to make sure he is playing regular first team football so that he can secure a place in the Romanian squad heading to Brazil. If Pellegrini decides against the Romanian he will likely make signing a new goalkeeper top of his January shopping list all but ending Harts dreams of retaining his place. With accomplish names like Real Madrid’s unhappy legendary stopper Iker Casillas and Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero touted, Hart knows getting back into the first team will be an almost impossible task if they arrive. If Pellegrini decides to stick with Hart, he will know that he cannot afford to let Hart’s slide continue as each bad result and performance can act like a domino effect to the player’s confidence. Goalkeepers, like strikers, live and breathe defining moments in a game such as a last minute wonder save, a penalty stop or a last ditch clearance. Hart desperately needs one such moment and is trying to make it happen which more times than not results in another howler. It’s a vicious cycle that can ruin a keeper’s career if he lets it snowball.
Hart needs to regain his composure and form quickly if he is to hold on to his England spot for the World Cup. Whilst not announced until May 2014, manager Roy Hodgson will use the time he has until then to make his final decision on his squad for Brazil. Hart’s drop in form has not gone unnoticed but with options limited, Hodgson has a dilemma on his hands. With Paul Robinson retired from international football, Hodgson has three potential replacements – West Brom’s Ben Foster, Celtic’s Frazer Forster and Stoke’s Jack Butland. All have shown their capability in the past but have never taken part in a major tournament like the World Cup, although Butland did represent Great Britain during the London Olympics last summer. Foster is the most likely of the trio as he has been in good form for West Brom but Celtic’s FF continues to improve his growing reputation with some outstanding performances in the Champions League. QPR’s Robert Green is an outside candidate but with a history of mistakes in important games like Hart, his card is marked.
Three will go with Hart likely to be one of them even if he is not a starter. His priority between now and then is to recover his composure and reclaim his dominant position as No.1. It’s in Harts hands now so here is hoping that he doesn’t let this opportunity slip between his finger tips.