The shot-stopper, capped 39 times, is one of the more experienced heads in a young Three Lions side and will undoubtedly play a major role in England's tournament, for better or worse. Goal takes a look at how he is shaping up ahead of this summer's finals.
|SEASON 2013-14 ANALYSIS
Hart had a horrific start to the season, with his all-too-frequent gaffes dominating the backpages and causing grimaces amongst England fans as the nation’s No.1 began to unravel. Tame shots were palmed into his own net and routine catches were fumbled, before a comical mix-up with Matija Nastasic saw City lose late on to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge at the height of Hart's ineptitude.
Manuel Pellegrini was forced into action, and decided to drop Hart for deputy keeper Costel Pantilimon. “Joe needs a rest and it will be useful for him,” said the Chilean at the time. The 27-year-old spent the next seven league matches on the bench, but a run that saw Pantilimon concede six times in three matches presented Hart with a chance to return to the first team.
Slowly and surely, he has restored his reputation. Having made three errors leading to goals at the start of the campaign (one every 0.33 matches), Hart made just one in the 22 games he played following his return from exile (0.04). He managed clean sheets in 33 per cent of matches before being dropped (and conceded 1.22 goals per game), but shut-out the opposition in 45% of games upon his return (and conceded just 0.86 goals per game).
Hart re-emerged as an integral part of City’s squad and made a crucial contribution, and several telling saves, at Goodison Park as Pellegrini’s men claimed their most decisive win en route to the title. He has since been singled out for praise by the former Malaga boss and appears to be back to his best form just in time for the World Cup.
|PREVIOUS TOURNAMENT EXPERIENCE
Hart’s first taste of international tournament football with the senior team came in South Africa in 2010. Though many had called for the youngster to be handed the No.1 jersey after an impressive campaign on loan with Birmingham, he was instead restricted to a watching brief as David James donned the gloves after a howler from Rob Green in the opening group game.
The City keeper, despite not playing, subsequently hailed the experience as a positive one that would benefit his development and which provided an insight into the unique environment, pressure and media gaze of tournament football. After the Three Lions had been dismantled in Bloemfontein, Hart was quickly installed as number one.
At Euro 2012, he was a commanding, authoritative figure - which even led to calls for him to take over the captaincy. The 14 saves he made in the group stages was the most of any player, and he kept Italy at bay for 120 minutes before a penalty shoot-out. Sadly he was unable to save any of the Azzurri’s spot-kicks and was humbled by Andrea Pirlo’s cheeky 'panenka'.
There are, however, reasons to be optimistic regarding Hart’s shoot-out abilities based on his performance at the European Under-21 Championship in 2009. In the semi-finals against Sweden he saved a crucial penalty and scored one himself, rifling the ball into the top corner, though his over-zealous gamesmanship also earned a yellow card that ruled him out of the final.
|LIKELY ROLE IN THE SQUAD
Hart will be England’s undisputed No.1 in Brazil, and rightly so. After putting his early season errors behind him, he has made a near-total return to the assured presence that saw him hailed as one of Europe’s finest young goalkeepers not so long ago.
Talkative and imposing, Hart will be expected to play a major role in organising and marshalling the back-line, with Roy Hodgson likely to be favouring a defence-first policy in Brazil. Should penalties be required, Hart may even step up to take one himself.
In South Africa, ex England boss Fabio Capello was eager to see Hart pass the ball out from the back and begin attacks, something which the City keeper (as his 47% pass success this season attests) is not particularly comfortable doing. Hodgson, though, is considerably more direct than his predecessor and the potential presence of Rickie Lambert could see Hart’s long hoofs forward utilised rather than berated.
Goalkeeping coach Dave Watson, meanwhile, may use his time with Hart to erase some bad habits, such as his ill-advised dashes to the edge of the box – and beyond. He is certainly not a sweeper-keeper, and it his attempts at cleaning up that have cost England in the past, with Zlatan Ibrahimovich notably benefiting in acrobatic fashion.