Joe Hart faces a testing season on both the domestic and international fronts.
Unchallenged as City’s number one—Costel Pantilimon will have to make do with the odd outing in the cups—Hart is also Roy Hodgson’s first-choice for England. But given the precarious state of England’s bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, one slip up by Hart could have grave consequences. Just ask Scott Carson and Steve McClaren.
Some argue that time spent away from City a few years ago was the making of Hart. He was supplanted by Shay Given after the Irishman was brought in late in January 2009, and then farmed out on loan to Birmingham City that summer. Given was available to add experience and reliability, and while it must have been a blow to Hart’s ego he responded well during his time at St Andrews.
While Hart was in the Midlands for a season, then-manager Mark Hughes was ruthlessly replaced by City’s owners with Roberto Mancini, who then had a tricky choice to make with both Given and Hart available at the start of the 2010/11 season.
At White Hart Lane for City’s first match of that season, the "Hart or Given" question was the hottest of hot topics, with Hart getting the nod. He responded superbly, making three outstanding saves early on in the 0-0 draw, and afterwards he revealed to City's official site he did not know whether he was picked over Given or not until that day.
From there it has been onwards and upwards for club and country, but with that comes more responsibility, and the stakes are even higher now. City are itching to reclaim the Premier League title, and England are desperate to qualify for Brazil.
With keepers standing alone as they do, it’s crunch time for Hart.
But new boss Manuel Pellegrini comes with a better reputation for man-management than his predecessor, as Niall Quinn touched on in a piece in the Daily Mail recently. From what we are led to believe, the Chilean is an arm-around-the-shoulder manager rather than a thrower of tea cups, so it will be fascinating to see how he responds to any Hart howlers.
On the England front, Hart has more competition in the shape of Ben Foster, who has impressed for West Brom and has ended his self-imposed exile from international football.
In March Hodgson said Hart was still his number one, but was pleased to have Foster as an option. Hart will raise his game accordingly.
The bar has been raised on two fronts. Hart has to be at his best for England to give himself a chance of performing on the highest stage.
Denied that chance at the last World Cup in South Africa, Hart’s reputation grew without him playing, but he’ll want his actions to speak for themselves in Brazil if England get there.