Joe Hart's season at Torino vindicates Pep Guardiola's decision to let him leave Manchester City
The goalkeeper has failed to live up to the hype in Italy with Torino.
On July the 3rd last year, Pep Guardiola strolled into Manchester City with a plan. His arrival as manager was being reported as one of the biggest moments in the club’s history. City had been one of the richest clubs in the world since 2008, and yet they had not brought anyone to the club, player or manager, with a reputation as one of the very best in the world.
Of course, some have developed into world-class talent at the Etihad Stadium but, specifically on the coaching side, the with three previous inhabitants of the dugout in the era of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s ownership – Mark Hughes, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, there was always a feeling the club could only go so far, even though the latter pair yielded Premier League titles in their reigns.
The club’s main aim was to win the Champions League, and Guardiola, having won it twice with Barcelona and never exited earlier than the semi-finals with the Blaugrana or Bayern Munich, represented the best hope on the planet. No coach is as particular with methods, which meant that anything that had happened before didn’t matter. If you didn’t suit his style, you were no longer welcome.
Joe Hart says that it was clear as soon as he clapped eyes on Guardiola that his City career was likely to come to an end. The goalkeeper plays the first, and arguably most important role, in Guardiola’s possession and high pressure-based philosophy. Playing the ball out from the back is vital, and it must be a specialist skill of his stopper, rather than an attribute. Hart now finds himself on loan at Torino, with his future beyond that very uncertain, despite the season ending within a fortnight.
Unsurprisingly, Guardiola’s decision was met by heavy criticism, mainly from neutrals and the press. City fans held back because they knew the promise of this new beginning. Claudio Bravo came in from Barcelona to replace the England international, but he has really struggled to adapt to life in the Premier League, with City heading into the final day of the campaign this weekend still to confirm a Champions League place, affording Guardiola’s doubters further ammunition for negativity.
Their argument is two-fold, firstly that Bravo is not good enough and, more importantly, that Hart could have been the man for Guardiola had he been given a chance. It would be easy to say he was hung out to dry, but the former Bayern Munich man knew for months he would be joining City, and the most obsessive coach around got to work with drawing up plans. Hart was particularly disappointing for England at Euro 2016, with a number of pundits criticising his kicking ability, creating a rather bizarre double standard.
Quite how he ended up in Italy, and Torino in particular, is still a thing of mystery. It was obvious he would be leaving City for a long time, yet no Premier League clubs came in for him all summer. Perhaps that was telling, but he still arrived at one of Serie A’s most historic clubs and with a huge point to prove.
Yet, by his own admission, he will “more than likely” be returning to his homeland in the summer, coupled with president Urbano Cairo’s claim that Torino “didn’t expect so many mistakes” when they agreed the deal, may suggest his Italian adventure has not gone as well as originally planned.
So what went on in Italy?
Hart’s defence, which constitutes as most of England’s as well, is the ignorance of his struggles when discussing Bravo, Guardiola and Manchester City. While Sinisa Mihajlovic likes to focus on attack (building his team around one of Europe’s best strikers this season, 25-goal Andrea Belotti) it is not unfair, as Cairo pointed out, to expect a ‘keeper of Hart’s calibre to have more of an impact on the team, which sits ninth in Serie A with two games to go despite Belotti’s impressive strike tally.
Il Toro have conceded 61 goals this season, the second-highest total in the league and Hart has played 34 games, keeping only five clean sheets and conceding an average of 1.34 goals per match. Last weekend saw Napoli score five for the second time against Torino, with Hart beaten at his near post.
If Cairo and Mihajlovic believed signing Hart alone would be enough to tighten a leaky defence, they were sadly mistaken. Missing out on Jozo Simunovic, the Celtic centre-back, on the same day they signed Hart, was perhaps the biggest factor in that failure.
From Hart’s point of view, his year in Italy will have its positives. Not many British players have the bravery to step into the unknown and play abroad, and while he was not inundated with offers, he deserves credit for that. It also gave him an opportunity to escape the scrutiny of the British press, and as already mentioned, the lack of coverage of his performances has actually benefited his image.
That is not to say Guardiola has not made a mistake, he may have, but it wasn’t letting Hart leave the Etihad. The 30-year-old has not justified himself this year and is certainly not a kicking specialist; Bravo was not Guardiola’s first choice, Marc-Andre ter Stegen was, and while he is good with the ball at his feet, he isn’t the long-term solution.
Joe Hart delayed reaching a career crossroads last summer, but he is approaching it now. Torino face Genoa on Sunday, and his future is still extremely uncertain. He will undoubtedly have offers on the table, but regardless of where he ends up, there is definitely not much of a case that Pep Guardiola was wrong to axe him based on his short career in Italy.