Amidst the excitement and passion of a chaotic final ten minutes at Hampden Park on Saturday evening there would have been an overwhelming sense of despair and relief for the man standing between the England posts.
Harry Kane’s late equalising goal may have provided an immediate ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card for his colleagues and manager, but it will fail to deflect the attention away from Joe Hart’s questionable performance.
Indeed, the 30-year-old, who has for so long been considered as the outstanding goalkeeper for both club and country, now faces an uncertain future as he faces up to what may well be a defining point in his career.
Hart to blame for dropped points at Hampden?
Against Scotland on Saturday, Joe Hart faced just three shots on target. All were struck by Leigh Griffiths. All were struck from at least twenty yards away from goal. Two found the back of the net.
For Hart, the most fundamental statistics will not make easy reading.
From a Scotland perspective both of Griffiths’ free kicks were beautifully struck and flashed over the England wall into the back of the net within the blink of an eye. However, South of the boarder the focus will very much be directed towards the beleaguered goalkeeper.
If you are to provide a rigorous critique of both free kicks then there will be an admission that neither were nestled perfectly into the corners of the net – in fact, the first strike was a full yard inside the post. In hindsight, Joe Hart’s starting position looked off and even second time round, when he stood more centrally, he was unable to get across the goal to make a save.
It brought back memories of Hart’s inability to keep out Gareth Bale’s long-range free kick during the European Championships – a tournament where his performances were characterised by a number of high profile errors.
Shifting back to Saturday, the simple question is – should an elite goalkeeper be beaten from that range twice? Or perhaps more pertinently, would Joe Hart have conceded both of those goals three or four years ago?
An uncertain future
Joe Hart now faces an uncertain future, both at club and international level.
Pep Guardiola has made it definitively clear that the 30-year-old no longer has a position with Manchester City, citing that he does not possess the technical quality to fit into the club’s new total football philosophy.
Hart was forced into exile and spent last season on loan in Italy but his return to the Etihad Stadium coincided with the recent arrival of Ederson for £35,000,000 ending any hopes of reconciliation.
The season-long loan to Torino did little to improve or develop his reputation. The club finished in mid-table in Serie A after a somewhat underwhelming campaign and there is little to suggest that the club are in any great rush to re-sign the 30-year-old.
Hart must now face up to the prospect of having no future with City and having no idea of where he will be plying his trade next season.
His position as England’s first choice goalkeeper has been under threat for some time and Gareth Southgate certainly has an abundance of talent to call upon should he be looking for a replacement.
Jack Butland has now returned from injury whilst Tom Heaton, Fraser Forster and Jordan Pickford have all performed consistently well over the course of the campaign.
These younger, fresher faces will certainly be pushing to earn the number one jersey over the coming months.
A defining moment
There is little room for sentimentality in modern football and Joe Hart now faces the most important summer of his career.
The 30-year-old is destined to depart the Etihad Stadium and he must negotiate a move to an elite club where he will be able to play on a regular basis. Failure to do so or an inability to recapture his previous form could lead to Hart’s career slowly drifting to into the realms of mediocrity where a place in the England squad is no longer guaranteed.
For a goalkeeper who has earned 71 caps for his country and lifted the Premier League trophy such a diminished ending would be thoroughly undeserved.
Hart does not necessarily need to move to a club in English football’s top flight – in fact a move to one of the so-called Big Six looks highly unlikely – so another move to the continent could be beneficial.
The season long loan at Torino, a distinctly average mid-table team in Italy, was a rushed quick-fix that did little to improve his reputation. However, that does not mean that a more considered move to a high-profile club would not help to rebuild his stuttering confidence, form and repute.
Whatever his final decision one thing is clear – Joe Hart’s next move will be the most important of his career.
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