In Joe Hart, England have had the safest pair of hands protecting their net since David Seaman’s retirement. Yet, following a rocky few seasons, there now exists growing concern that the once unflappable net minder’s time between the sticks is coming to an end.
We know the back story. Last summer Hart found himself pushed aside by the arrival of Pep Guardiola and his demand for a more rounded goalkeeper. A spell in Italy was to take the spotlight off Hart and allow him to do what few Englishmen have done in the past, prove his worth in a foreign land. It was a unique opportunity for the Englishman to prove his growing list of detractors wrong while allowing his supporters to smugly claim “I told you so.” Unfortunately, his time at Torino can only be labelled as an unmitigated disaster, posting one of the worst save percentages in Serie A and making more schoolboy mistakes than usual. As a result, with his loan at Torino now expired, suitors are hesitant to take a chance on the 30-year-old goalkeeper.
Not surprised by Joe Hart’s admission that he’s had no offers yet
Standard he showed at Torino not even good enough for mid-table PL clubs
— Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) June 12, 2017
Have people actually seen Joe Hart play for Torino this season?
Swear he was rated as one of the worst goalkeepers in Serie A?
— Jack Lebeau (@JackLebeau66) June 12, 2017
Despite these struggles, he still remains England’s number one; and what better way for him to close off a disappointing season than with a comfortable and uneventful victory while representing England over their British rivals, Scotland? As the clock hit 86 minutes everything was going to plan. Five minutes later, two free kicks from Leigh Griffiths ensured Hart would be the unfortunate story of the day.
Should he have done better? His footwork on the first might have left a lot to be desired; but it’s hard not to believe that if it was another goalkeeper in goal the criticism wouldn’t have existed.
There’s a growing contingent that believe Hart’s time as England’s number one is approaching its end. Yet puzzlingly enough, there seem to be no real challengers for his gloves. Fraser Forster has just had an equally bad season for Southampton, boasting the worst save percentage in the Premiership (59.2%). Jack Butland has only completed one season of top-flight football, which was two seasons ago, and Tom Heaton is third choice quality at his very best. The options are limited and unappealing to say the least.
There does lie Jordan Pickford. The current England U21 number one had a breakout season for Sunderland despite the fact they got relegated. There exists genuine hope and belief that Pickford possesses the type of quality that will see him go on to become a top class goalkeeper. Will he be ready to be England’s number one in a year’s time at Russia? Unlikely, but many will be pushing for him to be. A strong showing at the UEFA Euro U21 Championship in Poland later this month will see calls for a promotion accelerated.
As it stands right now, the goalkeeping position is not a problem Gareth Southgate would have wanted to contend with, but the reality of the situation is a tough decision may need to be made. Broken hearts are never fun.