As Jordan Pickford now looks poised to carry the weight of England on his shoulders for the next decade based on his World Cup exploits, it may be easy to forget about the netminder who crumbled under the pressure amid England’s worst spell in major competitions.
After a failed loan move to Torino and taking some time out to be a part of the fan backlash at West Ham, Joe Hart (whose name is actually Charles – look it up) is once again back at Manchester City.
Now, there’s more hope of yours truly getting game time under Guardiola than the heavy-footed Hart at the Etihad.
Pep’s boys play out from the back and asking the 31-year-old to initiate that is asking for trouble. So, what next?
Well, in order to answer that question properly, you should assess his current situation. Goalkeepers are different breeds than their outfield counterparts and their careers usually look a bit different in terms of performance level.
It’s harder to stand out as a younger goalkeeper, yet Hart managed it. His career began right before goalkeepers was just glorified midfielders and his shot-stopping ability was well-received among coaches and pundits alike.
His time at Birmingham made him. The Blues went on an unbeaten run that lasted 12 games in 2009/10, including draws against Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Man United. Hart was pivotal to their success and in retrospect, the back four of Stephen Carr, Roger Johnson, Scott Dann and Liam Ridgewell played well above themselves.
But, his drop-off in productivity can initially be related to the fact Manchester City simply didn’t have a whole lot to do in the years he was there.
They dominated the ball and while he would be called upon once or twice, Hart was generally a bystander.
As managers came and went and goalkeeper changed, Hart failed to move with the times. As previously alluded to, goalkeeping as a career should show initial signs of promise, before a spell of overcoming mistakes and finally settling into a rhythm as experience benefits you. But Hart doesn’t quite look set for the blazing twilight that so many fall into.
Where does he go from here? Well, he’s perhaps most likely to stay at Manchester City to be ninth choice stopper and while that gifts him decent pay, it doesn’t do anything for a late career run that some are speculating about.
He could drop a division quite easily – a return to Birmingham City, should they sort their FFP issues out – makes sense. They’re struggling to keep David Stockdale fit and Tomasz Kuszczak is 37 before season’s end. Could he reinvent himself at a club where he already feels comfortable? Perhaps.
There’s been some whispers about a move to Chelsea as the Blues struggle to lock down Kasper Schmeichel from Leicester. This, in many ways, would be the real test of the man.
Premier League spotlight might be the last thing he needs, but sometimes it’s best to have footballing centre halves in front of you.
A move to the US would be a cop-out, but it’s the only option where he can be comfortable and still get a fine chunk of change.
A former England international joining an MLS side in the early stages of his thirties would be a big deal for any franchise and they’d be sure to make him a top-earner.
Another trip to the continent isn’t likely given that nobody in Serie A will touch him and the end-to-end nature of games in France and Germany would overly expose him in his current vein of form.
Does he simply retire? It’s not unprecedented. He’s had a good career, won a Premier League medal, been capped 75 times for his country and could ride out into the sunset with well-conditioned hair.
Whatever about his mid-to-late career slump, Hart served club and country well – and sadly – to the best of his ability. He would be remembered as he was – distinctively average.