Joe Hart: Is he finished at elite level?
The English keeper has had another torrid year. But can his career be salvaged?
On Saturday, England’s number one played a blinder at the London Stadium. He was sprightly across his line and keen in the save, conducting his defence with officious authority.
It was just the latest impressive display from Burnley’s Nick Pope, whose sterling form has seen him sneak into the discussions surrounding Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad.
At the other end of the pitch, an entirely different set of questions were being asked. Joe Hart’s future looks increasingly dire, with the vultures feasting on another error as he bundled Johann Gudmundsson’s long-range shot into the path of Ashley Barnes for Burnley’s third goal.
It was Hart’s first appearance of note since a previous calamity against Everton had seen him dropped in favour of Adrián. The question is: is he finished at the elite level?
The Englishman’s decline has been precipitous.
At the last World Cup in Brazil, Hart was a fury of Brylcreem and jingoism, middle England’s answer to Gigi Buffon.
He’d had a tremendous two years with Manchester City, becoming a standout performer as they won their first ever League title. Under Manuel Pellegrini, and despite some patches of ill-form, he was an undisputed starter.
Then Pep Guardiola arrived. Hart had already shown worrying signs of decline that summer, with several unconvincing displays for the national team as it crashed out against Iceland in the European Championship.
With his overtly muscular frame and lack of passing acuity, City’s new manager jettisoned him on loan to Torino.
Hart was a popular figure in Italy for the same reasons he remains one at home.
He is admirably forthright, dependably honest in post-match interviews and always the first to admit his mistakes. The trouble is that he has to explain himself far too often.
He might be a model professional but, at 30 years old, Hart shouldn’t have to dismiss his absence from the team whilst hoping for his next chance.
He needs to play because the only way to wrest himself from his dismal run of form is – whether by luck or persistence – to put a run of solid games together.
A luxury he can’t afford
With West Ham residing furtively just three points above the relegation zone, Hart may find playing time a luxury that David Moyes chooses not to afford.
The resultant lack of appearances might mean that Hart misses out on the World Cup this summer but he will know himself that his form makes selection for the squad a very hard sell.
What’s more, the Shrewsbury-native will only be 34 by the time Qatar 2022 rolls around. The received wisdom tells us that goalkeepers reach their peak in the mid-thirties, as a sweet spot between physique, reflexes and experience is reached.
Hart, for all his recent travails, should find himself a club where he will be the undisputed starter. Because as bad as things are now, he still has time to turn it around.
Do you think Hart can salvage his career? Let us know by commenting below.