It has been a difficult few months for Joe Hart.
What began as a single poor performance in an August friendly against Scotland has turned into a string of them, and following subsequent gaffe-filled showings against Cardiff, Aston Villa and Bayern Munich it would seem as though the Manchester City goalkeeper could be facing some very real competition for his job come January.
A Friday report in Spanish daily Marca revealed City manager Manuel Pellegrini is once more mulling a move for Malaga stopper Willy Caballero—part of a transfer saga that dates back to Pellegrini’s switch from the Andalusia side to Eastlands back in May.
In a September interview with The Sun, Caballero admitted he had “talked” with Pellegrini before the 60-year-old’s departure to England, saying, “I knew of his intention to take me with him to Manchester City, but I was unsure whether he would stick with the same keepers he has already.” (Sky)
Having just turned 32 and enjoying something of a late bloom in a career that has taken him from Boca Juniors to Elche, Arsenal de Sarandi and, finally, Malaga, Caballero was hesitant to sanction the deal as he feared it would see him relegated to the role of a back-up.
But now, with Hart’s increasingly erratic performances, Caballero would almost be assured the occasional start at City—at least, that’s something Pellegrini would have to convince him of ahead of any agreement.
But would the move be in City’s interest?
In Hart the Premier League outfit has a goalkeeper with three Golden Gloves to his name and credentials as both a title and FA Cup winner. He is brash—occasionally to a fault—and communicates well with his defenders. And at 26 he has the balance of his career still in front of him—plenty of time to not only turn a poor campaign into a good one, but to also set himself back on a positive trajectory.
Yes, his recent performances have cost his side points, but in the context of only two months those outings should still be seen as aberrations—not as a new, disturbing trend.
At issue, of course, is whether City will choose patience ahead of desperation.
Caballero, to his credit, is a superb goalkeeper. His 3.43 saves-per-goal ratio so far this season is far superior to Hart’s 1.25, and his confidence in claiming the ball from set-piece situations and crosses is an attribute managers value highly (statistics courtesy Squawka).
In the short term he would almost certainly be a boost at City, whether as a starter or a back-up applying pressure to Hart. But over time it would be a piece of business that would almost certainly backfire.
Hart’s is a delicate situation at the moment, but it’s hardly unsalvageable. What he requires more than anything is the manager’s faith and his teammates’ fortitude as he looks to regain his form. Because when he does he will offer a better and longer tenure than City could ever expect out of Caballero.
City need to be focussing their efforts on recuperating their current goalkeeper—not on quick fixes that would ultimately be bad for them, their present stopper and his replacement.