With the renaissance of Ben Foster’s goal-keeping prowess and his recall to the Three Lions after a three-year break from international football, the pressure is on Joe Hart to step up and perform. And it’s clear the 25 year old is feeling the squeeze.
When asked if Foster will provide the necessary competition, Hart was quick to defend himself: “I’d imagine so. Whether it’s just me here or 10 goalkeepers or whatever, I’ll always train the same, try the same and give what I’ve got. I don’t need reinvigorating. I train hard, I work hard, I want to play well. I try and play well no matter who is doing what.”
Since cracking the Starting XI after the goal-keeping debacle that was World Cup 2010, Hart has been England’s clear-cut No. 1. Success with country boosted his confidence, a key component to Hart’s growth and the foundation for stringing together two successive seasons of dominance at City. But with the glories of lifting the FA Cup in 2011 and the Premier League trophy in 2012 in the rear view mirror, Hart has struggled over the last six to nine months.
The 2012-13 Premier League season has been dotted with glaring mistakes, notably the 1-0 loss to Sunderland on Boxing Day and the 3-1 loss to Southampton in February. It’s been the same situation on the international level as a shaky match against Poland last fall led to a poor performance against Sweden when Zlatan Ibrahimovic went on his famous four goal rampage. Once a happy-go-lucky kid with the build of a bouncer, Hart’s smile lines have turned to jowls and fiery displays of frustration have become all too common.
Critics say Hart isn’t pushed hard enough at City and that Costel Pantilimon – who hasn’t been called into Roberto Mancini’s fold for two years – isn’t providing the competition Hart requires to remain consistent. It’s a narrative that exists on nearly every team but credit Hodgson for going out and actually doing something about it. Seemingly unsatisfied with the likes of Jack Butland, John Ruddy and even the highly underrated Fraser Forster, Hodgson went out of his way to persuade Foster to end his international retirement.
While Hart admits he’s “not been brilliant” of late he seems to be taking the competition in stride, staying grounded and focused. “I’m only thinking about staying in the side for England and City, trying to be the best I can,” Hart says. “I’m in that privileged spot at the moment. I didn’t dream of this spot because I didn’t think it would happen. That No1 spot is one I want to keep.”
Fortunately for Hart, all should go well as San Marino has been outscored 16-0 in their last four matches. But if the 207th team in the world somehow manages to squeak one by the City netminder, things could get mighty interesting in the England camp.