Is Joe Hart‘s potential demotion to third-choice goalkeeper, or switch to Everton or Borussia Dortmund, really that seismic? Pep Guardiola has shown throughout his coaching career that he doesn’t shy from controversial decisions, dumping players due to a style or personality he doesn’t see as beneficial to his squad.
At Barcelona, he had no qualms with shipping out Ronaldinho and Deco – among two of the most storied players in a generation – as he didn’t deem them suitable for his era at the Camp Nou. Then in Bavaria, he banished forward Mario Mandzukic to Atletico Madrid following a Bundesliga campaign of 21 starts and 18 goals for Bayern Munich. Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s brusque exit last summer further showed no room for sentimentality with Guardiola at the helm.
And now at Manchester City, Hart, first-choice goalkeeper at both club level and for England, has fallen victim to Pep’s unassailable mindset. This despite the popular terrace chant among the City support for the past few years warning of a riot should the shot-stopper be sold.
The general misconception among the media – and maybe even in part of Guardiola’s thinking – is that Hart struggles with the ball at his feet, and this paved the way for his exit. The 29-year-old excelled across most sports that he represented for Meole Brace School and his home county of Shropshire, and in his teenage years between the sticks for Shrewsbury Town showed an assurance in possession that made him an 11th outfield player for the lower-league outfit.
The precocious talent would habitually stand on the edge of his 18-yard box, calling for the ball from whichever overweight journeymen would comprise of his back four that term. He had the ability to skip the challenges of a frontman after being sold short with a limp backpass, and then ping a diagonal ball to his wingers with unerring accuracy.
He certainly had the ability to rehash and improve his old sweeper-like role under Guardiola.
He can boast a 100 percent record through his penalty-taking exploits for England Under-21s and City too, showing no qualms in driving his laces through the leather spheroid with an exactness you’d suspect would allude his usurper, Willy Caballero, between the sticks.
The effort against AS Roma was in a friendly match last year, but it’s things like the maverick look over the shoulder that could’ve unsettled Guardiola. Hart’s ascent to his popular standing at City hasn’t come without its hiccups – it has been a career at times blighted by over-confidence.
The team’s unofficial spokesperson
In the sustained injury absences of captain Vincent Kompany last season, Hart was often the man tasked with having the microphones thrust in his face during difficult moments.
The former head boy of his secondary school is eloquent, and unashamedly honest, but that trait has landed him in hot water with a former boss when Hart said City had thrown away an opportunity to beat Real Madrid in 2012.
“Joe Hart should stay in goal and make saves,” said then-manager Roberto Mancini. “If anyone should criticise the team it should be me, not Joe Hart. I am the judge, not Joe Hart.”
After Manuel Pellegrini’s last City home match (where many publications – this one included – ran stories of a near-empty ground staying for the farewell, despite many watching on a big screen outside the ground, nursing a pint on a sweltering day), Hart came dangerously close to undermining the Chilean’s tenure.
“Obviously we’ve enjoyed our time under Manuel. We’ve won a couple of trophies – we’ve battled for a lot more,” Hart assessed after May’s 2-2 home draw with Arsenal. “I’m sure he feels the same as all of us: last season was disappointing, and this season – one trophy – and we’re going to fight until the end next week to try and make this some sort of a vaguely successful season.”
While Pellegrini – dubbed “This Charming Man” by City fans in reference to Manchester music legends The Smiths – may allow this candidness, Guardiola’s methods are less democratic.
Claudio Bravo, a 33-year-old Chilean who has shared the goalkeeping workload with Marc-Andre ter Stegen at Barcelona in recent years, has arrived in Manchester ahead of a reported £17-million move. But this isn’t Hart’s replacement – it’s a mere stop-gap before the future No. 1 assumes his place.
“As of today I want to play for La Real, I wear their colours,” said Geronimo Rulli on his return to Real Sociedad training. “Then, whatever might happen later, will happen. I’m not thinking about the future now, just the present.”
Rulli, 24, spent the last two seasons on loan in San Sebastian and, after signing for City this summer, his loan back to Sociedad will become permanent in January. The benefit for Guardiola’s club is that City will hold the option to re-sign him for €14 million over the following three transfer windows. Complicated, but barring a disastrous drop in form, Rulli will wear a City shirt by August 2018.
With Hart’s unceremonious jilting, there could have been an oversight when it comes to his adeptness with the ball on the ground, but Rulli’s future assignment seems inevitable. Rather than stringing Hart along, Guardiola made it clear the goalkeeping position will experience change in the next couple of years.
The Spanish boss has additionally instigated a hierarchical shift while he’s in charge: unlike the end of Mancini’s tenure and much of Pellegrini’s, no word and personality is bigger at the club than his own.