Manchester City

Costel Pantilimon, Not Fraser Forster, Is the Answer for Joe Hart's City Woes

MILAN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 18:  Fraser Forster of Celtic looks on during the UEFA Champions League group H match between AC Milan and Celtic at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on September 18, 2013 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterNovember 1, 2013

Joe Hart's recent struggles in a Manchester City shirt have been well documented, and the "mistake" that lead to Fernando Torres' winning goal at Stamford Bridge last Sunday appears to have worked Manuel Pellegrini's last nerve.

With City and Chelsea tied 1-1 in the closing seconds of a pivotal encounter between two sides challenging for the title, Hart tore off his line to sweep up a long ball and missed it, allowing El Nino to tuck it home with consummate ease.

It caps a lengthy list of "mistakes" in recent months from England's No. 1, and with uncertainty between the sticks it's unlikely the Citizens can challenge Jose Mourinho's troops come May 2014.

We use the word mistakes in quotation marks because of the bandwagon aspect in football: From the first error, anything that looks like it could be Hart's fault gets placed on his shoulders—even if he's blame-free in that particular instance.

For some reason, it becomes popular to blame—or bash—Hart.

The incident at Stamford Bridge is tough to call, as Matija Nastasic cannot let that ball bounce. Once the Serbian does, Hart panics and attempts to sweep up. Can this be solely attributed to Hart? No chance, but his irrational reaction is indicative of the pressure he's currently feeling.

His rap sheet for club and country is long and tiresome, and it's feasible to suggest it's playing on his mind.

Joe Hart's Blunders (2013)
GameDateError
Chelsea (A)October 27Rushed out to clear Nastasic's error, allows Torres a tap-in
Bayern (H)October 2Fumbles Ribery's long shot into his own net
Aston Villa (A)September 28Tears out of his box only for Weimann to round him and slide a winning goal home
West Ham (A)April 27Lets the ball squirm between his legs
Southampton (A)February 9Lets the ball squirm between his legs
B/R

Spectators now feel comfortable blaming Hart for goals that probably aren't 100 percent his fault. Some of the gaffes have been awful, but some—such as Cardiff City away in which he struggled aerially—are a team issue, not that of the individual.

One of the most famous "mistakes" in 2013 for Hart was the James Morrison strike he let in for England against Scotland, but the ball moved so violently in the air it looked impossible to stop. Blame modern football for that one.

Ahead of the Three Lions' crunch World Cup qualifiers against Poland and Montenegro, Roy Hodgson told the BBC "Hart is my No. 1." He responded with two solid performances—the one goal conceded cannot be attributed to him—and he looks far more at ease in an England kit than a Manchester City one right now.

That pat on the back from Hodgson was important, and the boss was right to move quickly to reassure Hart he was still a trusted member of the team.

That becomes infinitely harder at club level, however, when the press can set about linking Pellegrini's City to each and every excellent goalkeeper currently available on the market.

The latest link, via The Metro, is Fraser Forster, Celtic's No. 1 and Hart's direct competitor for a place in Hodgson's England XI.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 30:  Goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon of Manchester City gives instructions during the Capital One Cup Fourth Round match between Newcastle United and Manchester City at St James' Park on October 30, 2013 in Newcastle up
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Forster, known in Spain as "La Gran Muralla" (The Great Wall), is also wanted by Barcelona to replace Victor Valdes at the end of the current season. Were both to go in for him, a veritable tug of war could ensue.

This is not what Hart needs right now, and he's far from the broken clock many media outlets continue to portray him to be. Simply put, he's a world-class 'keeper who's down on his luck and out of confidence. This happens to all but the very, very finest in the business, and Hart will come back stronger than ever at some stage.

The key to him regaining form is not the club's acquisition of another world-class 'keeper, but in Costel Pantilimon coming in bearing some of the load.

The Romanian made several impressive stops to preserve a clean sheet in City's 2-0 win over Newcastle in the Capital One Cup this weekend and could be in line to start against Norwich City on Saturday.

That would actually be good for Hart, as it will allow him to sit back and work out his mistakes over the course of several weeks and come back in a confident man.

Signing another goalkeeper would do the exact opposite, and acquiring Forster could be enough for him to pack his bags and go.

There's no doubt Forster would be a wonderful player for City, but spending the money isn't necessary when all Hart needs is a little nurturing during a rough time.

 

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