Granted, the Manchester City stopper was arguably one of the best goalkeepers in Europe two seasons ago, but since then his form has – to extend the hairdressing salon metaphor – left many scratching their heads.
Hart hasn’t become a bad goalkeeper overnight, rather he has returned to his level, proving that it was his form in the 2011-12 season to be exceptionally good, rather than his performances in the second half of last season to be exceptionally ordinary.
Unfortunately for him, Hart’s dip in form has coincided with his team losing the unstoppable machine aura that surrounded them during their Premier League winning campaign two years ago.
As City surrendered their title last season, Hart’s mistakes became increasingly scrutinised to the point where every mistake the England keeper is culpable of becomes automatically described as a “blunder”.
On the other hand, Roy Hodgson’s decision to back a player who’s clearly not in form – Hart was far from impressive in City’s defeats against Cardiff and Aston Villa and during England win against Scotland in August- ahead of one who’s at the opposite end of the spectrum is largely debatable.
Yes, Fraser Forster plays for Celtic and the strikers’ standard in the SPL is obviously vastly inferior to the one facing Joe Hart week in, week out and, yes, English players who choose to ply their trade north of the border are always looked upon with suspect.
Forster, however, proved his worth on the continental stage on Tuesday night as he produced a series of impressive save against Barcelona and not for the first time either.
Having kept Messi & co. at bay 12 months ago, the man nicknamed “The Great Wall” by the Spanish press was superb against the Catalans, denying Alexis Sanchez and Celtic Park’s favourite Brazilian, Neymar, twice.
Furthermore, while the City stopper faces much more dangerous frontmen than Forster on a weekly basis, it is also true that he does so protect by a back four consisting of Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Matjia Nastasic and Gael Clichy, much better than what Celtic has to offer.
Those claiming that dropping Hart for the uncapped Forster would open the door to the same scenario that saw Scott Carson falter under pressure, thus costing Steve McLaren his job and England a spot to Euro 2008, are missing the point, for Hart himself benefited of other keepers’ poor form when he broke into the England team.
That’s how team selection works in football – in form players are selected ahead of their struggling counterparts.
“It would be a mistake to play him [Forster] in these important matches. Then we will see what Fraser can do between now and the summer. Joe will get us through the next two games,” said England manager Roy Hodgson, thus admitting that he selects his squad based on his players’ reputation, rather than on form.
England face two crucial games against Montengero and Poland and while Hodgson’s choice to back his number one could be seen as brave, it also adds unwanted pressure on Hart’s shoulders.
The Manchester City keeper knows every single aspect of his game will be scrutinised and that every error, however small, will be looked at through a magnifying glass and, considering his current form, how he will respond is anyone’s guess.
Furthermore, players whose spot in the starting XI is ensured regardless of their form tend to become sluggish, while those who have to fight for their place in the team, push themselves to improve.
Hart might well produce flawless performances against Montenegro and Poland, but should his unimpressive form continue, what would England gain by playing him?
Fraser Forster is England’s in-from keeper and, as such, he should be given the nod.