Joe Hart was dropped for City’s league game against Norwich City, after Manuel Pellegrini had deemed the England goalkeeper no longer reliable – at least for the time being – following a flurry of errors.
Hart had missed City’s Capital One Cup clash on Wednesday but while his exclusion from the team that faced Newcastle was considered part of a normal rotation policy, the Pellegrini’s decision to bench on him Saturday resonated much louder as did the Chilean’s confirmation that Hart will miss tomorrow’s clash against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.
The writing had been on the wall for sometime for the England goalkeeper, who began the season showing the same inconsistency that had marred his performances in the second half of the last campaign, but the predictability of Pellegrini’s decision doesn’t make Roy Hodgson’s job any easier.
Over the last nine months, the number of voices calling for Joe Hart to be dropped has grown, with errors piling up for the City custodian.
From last season’s mistakes away at Southampton, to the errors against Cardiff, Aston Villa and Bayern Munich this season, up to the catastrophic clanger against Chelsea a week ago, Hart retained his spot for club and country purely due to a lack of suitable alternatives.
In that respect that situation hasn’t changed. Costel Pantilimon was City’s back-up option last season just as he is now, but for the first time since he was mentioned in the same breath as Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon two seasons ago, Hart has found a manager brave enough to drop him.
Pellegrini had no choice. The Chilean was hired to mastermind a challenge on two fronts, and a team gunning for glory on the domestic and international stage can’t afford to have an error-prone keeper in their ranks.
For Roy Hodgson, however, the situation is rather more delicate and complicated. The England manager resisted pressure from parts of the media to drop Hart prior to England’s crucial qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland last month, on the basis that, however shaky Hart’s form was, consistency was of paramount importance for the national team’s sake.
With England having secured a ticket for Brazil and with Hart set to watch on from the sidelines for the foreseeable future, however, Hodgson must adopt as bold an approach as the one chosen by Pellegrini.
Yes, there might be an alarming lack of quality English keepers to choose from, but however limited the options at his disposal might be, Hodgson must explore all of them, for failing to act could be utterly detrimental to England’s chances next summer.
Plainly, the England manager can’t justify picking Hart when he’s no longer first choice for his club, nor can Hodgson afford to travel to Brazil without an established number one.
Between now and June England will play half a dozen friendlies, in which Hodgson must play Fraser Forster to give the Celtic stopper the opportunity to gain some much-needed international experience.
Forster has put in some impressive performances for Celtic in the Champions League, but lacks the international pedigree required to provide a suitable alternative Hodgson with a suitable alternative for Hart.
Obviously a handful of friendlies would not transform Forster into a seasoned veteran overnight, but they’d at least allow the Celtic keeper to have a first taste of the pressure that comes with being England’s number one.
Obviously Joe Hart might well regain his starting spot and rediscover the form of two seasons ago, but what if things don’t work so smoothly for him? What if Pantilimon goes to on seize his opportunity and makes it difficult for Pellegrini to reinstate Hart?
Roy Hodgson would be left with an even bigger problem and to avoid that, he should make the most of his limited opportunities, starting with not picking Hart for friendlies against Chile and Germany.
Pellegrini has taken the first step, Hodgson must now follow suit.