With the start of Euro 2012 just over a week away, Goal.com's England expert Jonathan Birchall profiles Three Lions and Manchester City keeper Joe Hart
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Face etched in ecstasy and considerable wingspan exposed, Joe Hart celebrated Sergio Aguero's title-winning goal for Manchester City with the air of a man about to lift off the ground. He has, after all, been flying all season.
Further from the action than anyone else on the field, the 23-year-old was just another delirious spectator at the Etihad stadium, circling his area like a confused pitch invader. It was and will remain an endearing image, one of a certain ilk that England fans love. Passion, spirit and all the other go-to tabloid buzzwords prior to a major tournament, the City goalkeeper has them in abundance.
Hart, however, is an anomaly. Stuart Pearce's fist pump and Peter Crouch's robot dance may get the fans on side, but England's No.1 goalkeeper couples immense, arguably world-class talent with his likeable air and 'one of the fans' persona.
The Premier League's Golden Glove winner for two consecutive seasons, Hart has now proven himself a worthy last line of defence for the Premier League champions, having signed from Shrewsbury Town for £1.5 million in 2006 and usurping Shay Given as City's No.1.
With 17 clean sheets from 38 league fixtures, Hart will enter Euro 2012 in possibly the finest form of his career. Keeping out four of City's final six opponents in the run-in for the title, Hart ended a Premier League season of which he didn't miss a minute as its undisputed top keeper.
As such, it seems near ridiculous that the 25-year-old has only 17 caps to his name, with Fabio Capello having largely favoured the more experienced pair David James and Rob Green up to and including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Since then, however, the No.1 spot has been almost exclusively Hart's.
|“He's a world-class goalkeeper, definitely one of the best I've played with, and he is going to get better and better as well”
- James Milner
His record for the national team is superb. With just one defeat in 17 games, and in a friendly against the Netherlands at that, there had been calls for the goalkeeper to become the country's captain prior to Steven Gerrard's appointment, such has been his influence and consistency for the Three Lions.
"I'm sure he is going to be England's No.1 for a long time, so he is as good a candidate for captain as anyone," said City team-mate James Milner after John Terry was stripped of the armband in February. "He's a world-class goalkeeper, definitely one of the best I've played with, and he is going to get better and better as well."
With modesty that belies his natural, infectious confidence, Hart has eschewed the hype. "As far as I’m concerned, it’s just my mum getting it out there saying she wants her son to be England captain," Hart told Goal.com in March.
“It’s not really been on my mind, it’s discussed behind the scenes. Whenever I’ve been anywhere near anyone who has any kind of pull with that kind of thing it’s never been mentioned."
The City man may portray himself as nothing special but with England travelling to Poland and Ukraine with one of their weakest squads in years, Hart stands out as a class above.Follow Jonathan Birchall on