Once again England find themselves blessed with a really top class goalkeeper. Manchester City’s Joe Hart has undoubtedly proven he is the number one and could easily keep the position for many, many years to come. Over the years, England have produced some phenomenal goalkeepers. Most notably World Cup winner Gordon Banks and record cap holder Peter Shilton. Some of the safest hands in the business have minded the national team nets, providing defenders with a confident and commanding presence behind them.
In this respect Joe Hart is no different. After the disastrous performance of Rob Green at the last World Cup and years of ‘Calamity’ moments from David James, it must be a relief for John Terry and co to line up in front of Hart who exudes confidence.
What is different though is that Hart has no real competition. Even in Banks and Shiltons time there was always at least one top quality keeper ready to seize an opportunity and keep the incumbent on their toes. From Peter Bonetti, through Ray Clemence and onto Chris Woods both Banks and Shilton knew that they could never take their place for granted. This ensured that England got the best out of their keepers at all times. In stark contrast, Hart’s rivals for the number one shirt have been retiring from International football with alarming regularity.
What is it that has prompted the likes of Paul Robinson and Ben Foster to hang up their England gloves prematurely? Hart’s pre-eminence may well be the reason. Or is it that the shine of playing for England has gone? Or is it just because it’s fashionable to make yourself unavailable for your country? All those may well be part of the cause but it’s clear that Fabio Capello must take much of the blame. Since the World Cup it’s become clear that Hart has become the first choice. To the extent that no one else gets a look in, even for friendlies. In the ten internationals since the last World Cup, only Ben Foster has been given a chance. That chance was against a strong France side. Considering the travel involved it’s little wonder that the likes of Paul Robinson have decided it’s not worth the hassle and time away from their families to just sit on the bench.
This is extremely short sighted behaviour from Capello. One of the biggest criticisms of recent England managers is their inability to drop any of the ‘Golden Generation’. This led to players like Lampard, Gerrard and more taking their place for granted and getting complacent. The result of this is clear to see in the record books, a litany of underachievement.
Capello earned much praise for being bold enough to drop Frank Lampard on Friday. Yet he has, over the last 15 months set himself up for failure regarding one of the most vital positions on the pitch. Perhaps the Italian is afraid that Hart will react badly to being rested for a friendly. That really doesn’t seem Hart’s style though and he in fact appears to be the kind of character who would absolutely thrive on the competition.
While it’s undoubted that Hart is the best England have, what happens if he gets injured? Who is Capello’s back up if Hart hits a patch of poor form? It’s not unheard of for keepers to have crises of confidence. While Hart does seem very confident in his abilities he wouldn’t be the first to suffer from a case of keeper blues. So if the worst happens to Hart, who will Capello turn to? His options are now severely limited. And of those available there is a distinct lack of Premier League and big game experience. David Stockdale, Scott Loach, Joe Lewis and Frank Fielding all look potentially good keepers but only Stockdale has performed at the highest level and all would be a huge risk. Being thrown in at the deep end could also ruin their career before it’s really begun. Rob Green does have Premier League experience but being realistic does anyone really believe he’s ever been good enough? Apart from Mrs Green? Yeah thought not.
So Mr Capello, you’ve made your bed, you’ve got to lay in it. While you’re lying there you best be praying that nothing happens to Joe Hart because he’s not only your number one, he’s your only one.
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