In arguably the most head scratching move of last summer, Joe Hart, England’s number one goalkeeper and a Manchester City mainstay for over a decade, swapped Blue Moon for The Maroons.
No, he didn’t suddenly join up with Jamaican settlers, but Torino FC, a Serie A side left in the proverbial island of mid-table mediocrity for some time, that is, whenever they’re not stranded in Serie B as they have been multiple times since the turn of the millennium due to unstable finances. It was a humbling for the two-time English Premier League winner and four-time Golden Glove winner after City manager, Pep Guardiola, essentially shamed him and pushed him out the door. Guardiola, known for preferring keepers who are nimble on their feet and comfortable with playing the ball outside their penalty era, made his feelings known that Hart was not his cup of tea in net and, with no EPL team willing to take him on, shipped him to the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino in not so grand fashion.
Joining on loan, Hart has tried his best to embrace the historic move like the fans have embraced him ever since his arrival, shocked that a keeper of his calibre would join them. The first keeper ever from the U.K. to play in the Italian top flight, Hart was keen to prove his critics wrong and help Torino, who did reach the last 16 of the Europa League two seasons ago, return to becoming European contenders.
After a respectable start for Il Toro though, the wheels have fallen off somewhat for Hart, who has looked out of his element for a team now ninth in the table. It’s not all his fault by any means. Torino’s defense has not been helpful, allowing the fifth most goals in the league (55) and committing the third most fouls (15.6), according to WhoScored. Some of that shakiness at the back can be attributed to key summer departures of talismanic centre back and captain, Kamil Glik, for Ligue 1 leaders, AS Monaco, as well as highly-rated right back, Bruno Peres, to AS Roma. It can also be tracked to a lack of chemistry under former Lazio left back turned journey man manager, Siniša Mihajlović, who took over from now Italian national team boss, Gian Piero Ventura, last summer.
But the mistakes Hart has made have been aplenty, especially in the second half of the season; mistakes sure to worry his parent club. He has made five errors that have led to goals this season, including a whiffed punch on his debut at surprise European challengers, Atalanta, and a pair against Inter Milan which allowed Geoffrey Kondogbia and Antonio Candreva to erase a 2-0 deficit. That’s three more errors than much maligned replacement for Hart at City, Claudio Bravo, and Willy Caballero have had combined in 2016/17.
Additionally, Hart ranks 18th in save percentage with a 63.9% clip, down from 72% and 66.3% in his last two seasons at the Etihad. Again, he isn’t helped by his leaky back line, who’ve allowed 14 shots a game. But Hart has allowed too many goals he has no business allowing this season, at times looking unsure at whether to come out, catch or pass when the ball comes his way. He’s had similar head scratching errors for City and the Three Lions, and at age 30, as his prime years dwindle, don’t expect those errors to be dramatically cut down going forward.
Ironically, the one area Hart has improved on this season is the one Pep wasn’t too fond of, distribution. His distribution accuracy rate is 72%, a more than 15% improvement than his last three seasons at City combined. Nevertheless, this new adventure only exposed the same problems Hart has long had, not being the consistently commanding presence in goal his talents and physique warrant.
Hart’s future appears to be with neither of his clubs. Despite fans calling for their former hero’s return, it is highly unlikely Pep will take him back at City. And, Torino made it clear from last December they cannot afford another loan for a player on wages of £135,000 a week and valued at €15 million.
Silly season has linked Hart to rivals, Manchester United, should David De Gea make his return to La Liga, but that’s a pipe dream at best. Two other possible destinations lie in Merseyside as both Liverpool and Everton are linked to the Shrewsbury native. With Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, firmly denying interest in Hart, Everton appear much likelier and more fitting suitors. While Joel Robles has performed admirably for the Toffees this campaign, a move for Hart would signal intent that Everton want to further their domestic and European ambitions after their recent big money takeover.
Though potential buyers should express caution given Hart’s declining form, he’s still a highly capable goalkeeper and better than the majority of his EPL counterparts. He’s sure to have learned a lot from his unexpected castoff to Turin, which was undoubtedly a blow to the ego, but opened his eyes to just how much fine tuning his game needs.
City was indeed Hart-less in ridding of arguably its greatest keeper, but after a largely forgettable stint in the once home of the Old Lady, the fat lady may just have sung on his days as a top-tier goalkeeper. But should he latch on to a better fitting home and recapture some of the top form he displayed dating back to his superb loan spell at Birmingham City, this Hart will beat strongly yet again as he attempts to resuscitate his career.