There were not many surprises in England’s recent World Cup squad announcement with the 23 players selected largely representative of those who had either enjoyed a strong domestic campaign or, as in the case of Danny Welbeck, have often saved their best form for international duty.
A few eyebrows were raised with Gareth Southgate’s three selected goalkeepers not including the name of Joe Hart.
After all, the 31-year-old has won 75 caps for his nation and had been the number one choice at each of the last three major tournaments.
Sure, he had not enjoyed his best form domestically, but surely that experience and knowhow at major tournaments would come in handy, right?
Decline and fall
Unfortunately for Hart, who looks set to depart loan club West Ham to return to Manchester City in the coming weeks, he no longer represents a safe pair of hands or a calming figure.
His decline and fall from grace over recent years has been staggering. It was his mistake which cost England their Euro 2016 place in their shock loss to Iceland but, at that time, he was still the undisputed first-choice goalkeeper for club and country.
Less than two months later, new City boss Pep Guardiola had shipped him out. Identifying his style as being incompatible with his own.
An unhappy season-long loan at Torino followed before another temporary stint this season, this time back in the Premier League with West Ham.
Rather than a redemption story, his failings have further justified Guardiola’s decision to dispense of his services.
According to Opta, he has made four direct errors leading to goals this season – only three top-flight goalkeepers have made more and the damning aspect of this for Hart is that he has started only half (19) of his club’s league matches this term.
More pertinently, this means he has made an error leading to an opposition goal more frequently than anybody else (one every 428 minutes), of those players who have played over 500 minutes in the Premier League this term.
The statistics further underline the problems which have been all too evident for the past number of seasons. Hart has consistently displayed poor judgement and concentration levels.
Often seen being ‘pumped up’ in the tunnel before the match, his decision-making has frequently been called into question as he lets his guard drop at key moments.
Throughout his career, he has struggled with shots which go to the bottom-left corner of his goal and he has not addressed this.
Nick Pope, Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland have unquestionably been the three best English goalkeepers this season and to exclude any of them on the basis of ‘big tournament experience’ would be wrong.
Hart, by his own admission, was at fault for the Iceland loss and players should be selected on merit, and nothing else.
The reality now facing Hart is that he is not wanted by West Ham, City or England. His international career is now all-but-over and it remains to be seen if any top-flight club would wish to avail of his services for next season.
It may be the case that he needs to drop down a division to re-find form and regular first-team football. It may not be the easy thing to hear, but his exclusion from this summer’s World Cup is not even up for debate.
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