Gareth Southgate is planning a trip to Turf Moor this Saturday, and that could mean big things for 31-year-old goalkeeper Joe Hart.
The former Manchester City starter and longtime England #1 has fallen out of the setup after a dip in form that led to not only his fall down the England depth chart, but also his exit from the Etihad. After losing his starting spot at City in 2016, a loan move to Italian club Torino was the beginning of the end for Hart’s international job.
Or was it?
Jordan Pickford, who was one of the best goalkeepers at the World Cup this summer, is firmly entrenched in the starting spot. However, there are murky waters surrounding the backup job, and that’s where Hart could find himself back in the mix.
England boss Gareth Southgate has insisted publicly that the position is open for the taking. Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy is expected to be the man Southgate calls upon during the October international break, but that’s nowhere near set in stone. Burnely’s Nick Pope, who served as backup at the World Cup without seeing game action, is out injured for a significant amount of time with a dislocated shoulder. Jack Butland‘s stock has dropped after Stoke City was relegated, and now the Potters toil in the bottom third of the Championship standings. Fulham shot-stopper Marcus Bettinelli was called up in early September, but he did not feature, and the 26-year-old hardly even has the confidence of his own club manager.
So, could Hart earn himself a spot in the rotation? With Pope injured, the 31-year-old has stepped in at Burnley and performed at a decent level despite just a single point for the club through the first five Premier League matches. With few concrete options, it’s possible a familiar face could be back in the England squad.
The longtime Everton and U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper, along with the rest of his Victoria Road Football LLC partners — Peter B. Freund and Craig Unger — recently purchased the majority of shares in the fifth-division English club.
The group announced this summer that Memphis 901 FC — where Howard now lives during the offseason — will debut in USL in 2019. Freund also own the Memphis Redbirds, the AAA (baseball) affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“When I first visited Victoria Road this summer for a friendly against Cambridge, and having come back for the match against Hartlepool, I was captivated by the incredible passion shown by the Daggers supporters.
“I consider my ability to come in and help this club, which has roots dating back to the 1880’s, as a privilege and will do everything I can to solidify it this season and give us a chance to return to the Football League in the future.”
Freund was reportedly interested in purchasing a stake in Championship side Aston Villa in the summer, before an Egyptian company owned by the Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris swooped in ahead of Freund.
Sent off for a confrontation with Phil Bardsley in Manchester United’s win over Burnley before the international break, Rashford has scored in consecutive matches for England.
The most recent goal came Tuesday at King Power Stadium in a friendly against Switzerland, as Rashford got on the end of a cross from Man City defender Kyle Walker and coolly slotted a volley into the goal to give the Three Lions a 1-0 lead.
England had already called up Demarai Gray (and Ben Chilwell) for the game at Leicester City, so Dele wasn’t really needed for the friendly. Yet there was still concern from Spurs supporters regarding their star 22-year-old.
Gareth Southgate said that Dele suffered a muscle strain against Spain at the weekend, but should be fine for Saturday’s 7:30 a.m. ET contest at Wembley Stadium.
“Alli has just had a minor strain and should be fine for his club at the weekend I would think, but Tuesday’s game will come too quickly,” Southgate said in his pre-match press conference.
Dele has one goal in four matches for Spurs this season, scoring in the PL season opener against Newcastle United. He’ll be a key part of unhinging Liverpool’s deep midfield on Saturday.
After guiding England to the 2018 World Cup semifinals this summer, Southgate’s current contract with the Three Lions runs through the end of the EURO 2020 tournament.
Speaking ahead of England’s friendly against Switzerland at Leicester City’s King Power Stadium on Tuesday, Southgate was asked if he’d like to remain England manager and lead them through the 2022 World Cup.
“At the moment we’ve had initial discussions. That has been it. For me, I’ve got to focus on the job in hand. I’m contracted for the next 22 months or so and my focus, most importantly, is for tomorrow night and for this team to keep improving,” Southgate said. “This summer was an incredible experience for everybody. Those are the games you want to be involved in and the matches that matter. Beyond that I don’t really want to get into any more detail because I don’t want to distract things from the game.”
Southgate’s situation isn’t one that England fans should be overly concerned about.
The former England international has spoken many times about his love for the Three Lions and being their head coach. But his stock has never been higher as a coach and the former Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa defender will no doubt interest plenty of Premier League clubs when they have a managerial vacancy over the next 12 months.
Martin Glenn, the head of the English FA, has already acknowledged that they probably won’t be able to pay Southgate a salary close to what he could demand if he took charge of a PL club. Yet Southgate is a man who has been embedded into the masterplan to revive the English national teams from the very start and he seems keen to lead the men’s national team with so many promising youngster ready to break through from England’s U-17 and U-20 World Cup winning teams.
Add in the respect England’s young team have for him and the clear identity in a 3-4-3 formation he has brought to the team and Southgate has done all he can up until this point. For now, songs about loving Southgate and idolizing his waistcoast will continue, but over the next six months we will see if this England team can regain the form they showed over the summer as they aim to keep improving and be among the top contenders for the European Championships in two years’ time.
Getting Southgate locked down to a new deal is essential to making that a reality.