Signings of the Summer: Joe Hart
Not much of value can be found in my hometown. The fishing industry that had once been so lucrative for the port of Grimsby is now all but dead. Public transport is falling apart, the stale stench of sweat and urine is all that grants those that dare to ride it.
Even the football club which punched above its weight for years is now as down in the doldrums as the population that rattles around its Blundell Park home.
In 2006, that very stadium was lit up by the brilliance of one Shrewsbury Town player. He was a beacon of confidence in the Shrews goal; claiming every cross that dared threaten the penalty area, pulling off fantastic saves to deny strikers and kicking the ball long distances to set up the counter attack. He did not look like beaten.
The Mariners needed a late penalty to finally get past the inexperienced yet immovable object.
It was obvious to every spectator that day that Joe Hart was destined for much bigger things than the fourth tier of English football. Premiership scouts were already hovering over the youngster, looking to pounce on a future first choice international keeper. In the summer of that year, Manchester City made their move.
Stuart Pearce signed Hart initially as a third choice goalkeeper behind Andreas Isaksson and Nicky Weaver so it made sense for Hart to be loaned out to continue his development. After settling into Manchester life in the first half of the 2006/2007 season, Hart was borrowed first by Tranmere Rovers and then Blackpool.
When Sven-Goran Eriksson replaced Pearce as manager in the summer of 2007, he relegated Isaksson to the bench, giving Hart the opportunity to cement his place in between the posts at Eastlands.
He took Eriksson’s decision in his stride, with a series of excellent Premier League performances paving the way for an international call up and subsequent cap against Trinidad and Tobago in June 2008.
With a Premier League starting place assured and a fledgling international career, it looked like everything was on track for Hart to become the country’s top goalkeeper. His good form continued in the back end of the year, but in the January transfer window his place was snatched away.
Despite possessing one of the country’s best, Mark Hughes found it impossible to resist the temptation of drafting in arguably the Premier League’s best goalkeeper, Shay Given. Signed on the cheap at an alleged initial fee of around £6million, few contested the ‘bargain value’ of the buy.
But behind the excitement of the Given deal lay a player who was surely more disappointed and confused than anything.
Here was a player with the world at his feet, or hands as the case may be, who had had his number one position snatched away by no fault of his own. A few days after the transfer was completed, Given himself told the Mirror that it was ‘awkward’ when he first greeted Hart on the training pitch.
While Given picked up at City from where he left off at Newcastle, Joe Hart was relegated to the status of bench warmer for the final five months of the season.
Twelve months prior, Hart was making his international debut. Now he was back in the reserves for his club. He initially talked up his chances of challenging Given for the number one spot, but eventually conceded defeat—at least for now. With the World Cup in South Africa also on the horizon, a move away from the club to secure first team football was needed.
Fresh to the Premier League, new club Birmingham are exactly the type of club that could help Hart reignite his stalling career. A new defence which lacks in top flight experience, 'Brum' are likely to be severely tested by the pace and power of their rivals, giving Hart every chance to impress in goal.
A loan deal will be beneficial for all parties. With the signing of Stuart Taylor, City have adequate cover in the goalkeeper position without having huge potential wasting away on the sidelines, only emerging in the odd League Cup game.
Birmingham were short of a top-class goalkeeper, and Hart provides a commanding presence which will help manage a back line which will undoubtedly need plenty of organising.
For Hart himself, the advantages could be most great. He has a point to prove to his employers and will be raring to show them what they’re missing out on. A successful season in the Midlands may be unlikely to shift Shay Given from the primary keeper spot, but could alert other clubs to his ability. And of course, in June 2010 a seat is up for grabs on the plane to the World Cup in South Africa.
That is a whole different kettle of fish to League Two matches in Grimsby.
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