LONDON – He is out of form to the extent of becoming a liability, his mistakes are too frequent and costly, while his goal probably seems like the Grand Canyon, but Joe Hart will play for England in the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland that will decide its 2014 fate.
Hart was blamed for two of Bayern Munich’s goals in the 3-1 win at Manchester City on Wednesday. It is not just a poor run of form, the dip has been year-long and Hart has been a different goalkeeper to the reliable stopper he was at Euro 2012.
He has too often been unconvincing, particularly on set pieces, raising doubts about the belief England had found its long-term goalkeeper.
Roy Keane was one of the first to question Hart, wondering if he had become too big-headed, believing in his own publicity and a series of commercials for a shampoo manufacturer has given writers scope for follicle fun.
It is a sad commentary on the dearth of English goalkeeping talent that Roy Hodgson must continue to pick the Manchester City player. In any other position England has viable options, but the goalkeeping cupboard is almost bare.
There are only three English goalkeepers who are first choice in the Premier League: Hart, Norwich City’s John Ruddy and David Stockdale of Fulham.
Does Hodgson stick or twist?
He will stick.
“Joe Hart is my No. 1 and has never let me down,” said Hodgson, turning a blind eye to goals scored by Poland and Scotland in the past 12 months. “I like him to get rave reviews for playing well and I am sure he’s not happy with criticism, but this is a fact of life I have to live with . . . that sometimes players are in the squad on the back of displays they have been criticized for. But Joe has earned the right, the other two keepers have not yet.”
The other two ‘keepers are Ruddy, whose international experience is 45 minutes of a friendly against Italy 14 months ago, and Fraser Forster of Celtic who has no international caps. Hodgson should have given the back-ups more international experience, if only in friendlies, and will need to if England qualifies for the World Cup next year.
Those who believe Hart has become too big a liability should remember how Scott Carson was given his competitive debut by Steve McClaren against Croatia in November 2007 at Wembley.
England lost 3-2, Carson at fault for Niko Kranj’s opening goal. McClaren was sacked the following day after England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008.
It is also a risk to play someone whose confidence has been battered and is making elementary mistakes. A goalkeeper’s errors are invariably highlighted and more costly than any other players’ glitches, but over the past year Hart’s have been mounting at a worrying rate. The Montenegro coach, Branko Brnovic, will be planning for a Hart attack as he prepares his team for next Friday’s match at Wembley, reminding his players to pressurize the goalkeeper at every opportunity.
How Hodgson must cast an envious eye at Spain, which has Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina, Victor Valdes, David de Gea and Diego Lopez, any one of whom would be a safer option than the current ordinary Joe.
NOT ONLY DOES the Football Association make up its own disciplinary rules, the governing body is also rewriting the English language.
Last July the F.A., under pressure to retrospectively punish violent conduct unseen by match officials, announced: “From the start of the new season, the F.A. will reserve the right to take retrospective action when match officials are not in a position to fully assess a coming together of players.”
Now there will be a natural sense of justice for offenders. No more escaping for guilty parties. But we should have known better from an organization whose disciplinary process is so weak it virtually promotes foul play.
The chances of a player being charged and found guilty are minimal under the F.A.’s farcical rules despite the alleged changes to them.
When Tottenham played Chelsea last weekend, Fernando Torres clearly scratched Jan Vertongen, digging his nails into the Belgian’s face. Referee Mike Dean was in no position to see this while an assistant referee, according to the F.A.’s coming together of the two players, albeit not in its entirety.
“If you do not see an incident in its entirety you surely cannot be in a position to fully assess what happened?”
So Torres could be charged?
In the F.A.’s view, “not seeing something in its entirety” is not the same as “not in a position to fully assess a coming together of players” so they “could not” charge Torres “in line with the F.A.’s policy on when retrospective action can be taken.”
Retrospective action can, presumably, not be taken unless a player thumps an opponent 50 meters away from where the ball is.
Even F.A. chairman Greg Dyke was bemused by his organization’s decision.
He said: “I suspect the F.A. needs to up its image. When they didn’t charge Torres for scratching there was uproar (around the FA), but it was something that had been decided according to disciplinary rules. My view of the F.A. is that it needs to be more proactive and on the front foot.”
Next season, to tighten up their rules, the F.A. will add “in the same year as Halley’s comet appears.”
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.