Options Thin As Joe Hart Reaches Critical Career Juncture

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It wouldn’t be fair to say that English football has forgotten about Joe Hart. His appearances for Torino are afforded a degree of recognition, usually when a mistake prompts some snark from observers, and there are regular, easy stories speculating about his future. But, he has been put to the side of many people’s minds, not least because he no longer plays in the Premier League.
It’s easy to forget that Hart remains England’s first choice goalkeeper and a double Premier League winner. A lack of love from Pep Guardiola does not make the 30-year-old a bad goalkeeper, but it does make him unneeded at Manchester City. Guardiola wants a goalkeeper that can work as the deepest of deep-lying playmakers even if that goalkeeper is unable to make a save, as with Claudio Bravo. Hart no longer fits where he once looked certain to be a club legend. Indeed, Guardiola’s recent comments further emphasised that Hart’s future would be decided at the end of the season. It doesn’t look like he will stay.

Hart is realistic and knows the situation. He has acknowledged that he is “surplus to requirements” at City. He appears resigned to leaving the club. In March, Hart said: “I want to play football, I love to play football. If that opportunity’s not going to be given there then I’m going to have to look elsewhere and I may have to make somewhere else my home.”

So, the question remains: where? Hart has previously said that the Premier League is not “top of his wish-list”, rather he is seeking a club that wants to make him their undisputed number one. As it appeared clear that Hart would leave City last summer, reports linked him to Liverpool, and they have yet to stop. But Jurgen Klopp has had other ideas. The Liverpool boss has ruled out signing Hart, insisting he is happy with the inconsistent pair of Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius. That’s another option seemingly gone. Across Merseyside, Everton have also been linked with Hart, though their may be some difficulties with wages and the Toffees’ perceived status outside the elite of English clubs.

More suitable options may be away from the Premier League. Torino want to keep him, Sinisa Mihajlovic has said as much. For them, the problem is money. They cannot afford to buy Hart, despite Mihajlovic maintaining that the England goalkeeper wants to stay in Turin. There’s always the chance of another loan. City do not exactly need to recoup money, given both the minuscule fee paid to Shrewsbury for Hart and the club’s own gigantic budget. They could also allow him to leave on a free, accepting that he is not going to feature anymore but respectful that a loyal servant should not be left to trundle on in the reserves. A move to a club outside the Premier League, a non-rival, could suit both. Across Italy, Roma could be looking for a goalkeeper this summer, with Wojciech Szczesny’s loan move from Arsenal coming to an end. There will be options.

Whatever Hart chooses this summer, a first-team place is crucial. With the 2018 World Cup on the horizon, he will want to ensure that his position as England’s first-choice goalkeeper is maintained. When Jack Butland fully recovers from injury, there will be competition, while Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton provide other options. Any doubt about playing time will hamper Hart’s chances. International managers tend to edge away from picking players that are not regularly playing. Hart needs to play, he needs a move and he needs to continue with his open mind to opportunities away from the Premier League.

 

Eliot is a freelance football writer who has covered football from England, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine for the Daily Mirror, ESPN FC, Roads & Kingdoms, BBC Radio 5 Live, talkSPORT, and others.

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