Joe Hart transforms Torino into European dark horses as his character shines through to grip dressing room

Hart's strong start and determination to learn Italian has helped him become Siniša Mihajlović's new defensive leader

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The Independent Football

Joe Hart could have been forgiven for looking around a decaying Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia at full-time in his Torino debut and questioning his deadline day move to the peninsula. An afternoon that began with ‘John Hart’ being listed on the official team sheet was compounded by the loanee making an error of judgement from a cross which allowed Atalanta to equalise before a late penalty saw them snatch the win.

In less than six months, the 29-year-old went from the semi-finals of the Champions League to picking the ball out of the net three times infront of 15,000 people in Bergamo. Having been ostracised by Pep Guardiola for a lack of ability with his feet and ultimately forced out of Manchester City, he now found himself in unfamiliar territory and expected to assimilate into a team that was also in a state of transition.

Torino are a proud club that boast a rich history of seven league titles and have consistently been improving on the pitch in recent years, but the shot-stopper joined just as long-time coach Giampiero Ventura had left to takeover the Italy job from one Antonio Conte. Additionally, three of their defensive linchpins in Kamil Glik, Nikola Maksimović and Bruno Peres had departed in the summer window for combined transfer fees in the region of £45m.

Hart was greeted as a superstar upon landing in Turin with hundreds of supporters flocking to embrace their new signing. Despite his challenging introduction to life in Serie A, many locals were impressed by how he conducted himself in his formal unveiling and by his commitment to learning Italian. 

Siniša Mihajlović was now at the helm after an uninspiring spell at AC Milan. With his defensive options slightly depleted, the tenacious Serbian tactician swiftly turned to Hart to command the backline. He relished the role and turned into a vocal presence at the back. Impressive recent victories over AS Roma and Fiorentina have cemented the side’s position as dark horses for a European place. They are currently seventh, seven points off the top.

However, the foundations of a solid team were always there as Torino president Urbano Cairo and director of sport Gianluca Petrachi have established a reputation as savvy operators in the transfer market.

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Hart celebrates with his Torino teammates after the recent victory over Fiorentina (Getty)

Petrachi freely admitted former Arsenal reserve Emiliano Viviano was their initial target before acting quickly to secure Hart’s signature. This was a marquee signing, with the Englishman expected to live up to his reputation as a big character. “For us, he is a bit of an exception because for years we have signed young players and not used the loan system much,” revealed Cairo at his unveiling.

That much is undoubtedly true as Torino have quietly been stockpiling a selection of Italy’s brightest young prospects. Marco Benassi has captained the team at the age of 22, while Daniele Baselli and Davide Zappacosta are expected to spearhead the midfield alongside him this term. Antonio Barreca and Mattia Aramu form part of a plethora of fresh-faced talent also set to contribute. The one player who has instantly risen to the challenge this season is Andrea Belotti.

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Hart saves from his former Manchester City teammate Edin Dzeko during Torino's win over Roma (Getty)

Nicknamed ‘The Rooster’ for his signature celebration, Belotti has inherited the mantle from Ciro Immobile in attack for the Granata and bagged five goals in as many games. Picked up for a measly £6.5m from Palermo in 2015, he is further evidence of Torino’s astute transfer acumen.

 


In conjunction with Belotti’s electric form, Hart’s calming presence at the back has been vital as Mihajlović looks to win games by outscoring the opposition. The Italian press have already suggested that as the campaign progresses, Cairo will pull out all the stops to make his loan deal permanent. 

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Hart is now back in England ahead of the internationals against Malta and Slovenia (Getty)

English players have had mixed fortunes plying their trade in Italy. Micah Richards and Ravel Morrison are recent examples of players who have failed to resurrect their careers in Serie A. Nevertheless, the Premier League winner is in his prime, unlike compatriots who also made the jump such as David Beckham and Ashley Cole. For that reason, Hart is a unique case. He described the move as “destiny”, but the key word will be consistency if both he and Torino want to make it back to the big time.

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