England v Italy: Joe Hart draws on country’s support to defeat stress of exposed spot

 

The phrase that Joe Hart settled upon is “trampled to the wayside”. It is what happens to goalkeepers, he says, who cannot cope with the pressure and the exposed nature of the position that they play in. There is no nice way of saying it, but he is confident that whatever occurs at this World Cup finals, it will not be his fate.

Four years ago, at the 2010 World Cup, Hart was Fabio Capello’s No 3 keeper in a group that included David James and Robert Green, although the then England manager declined to name a No 1. That decision was left to the very last moment of England’s opening game against the United States and it was Green who got the nod, made a mistake for Clint Dempsey’s goal and was promptly dropped for James.

Since England returned from that tournament, Hart has been the first choice under two different managers. He has endured his own slumps in form, when he was dropped by Manchester City for a period in October, but Roy Hodgson’s faith has never wavered. At 27, Hart has developed his own way of dealing with the stress and isolation of his position.

“Whether I was playing or not playing, I still felt the club was behind me and I had a place there [during his time out of the team],” he says. “It means a lot to have both your club and country behind you. I’d like to think that I repay that faith by working hard and giving my best. Sometimes my best isn’t good enough. Sometimes all of our best isn’t good enough. That’s life. I had to get my head down, respect people’s opinions and work hard to get to my best.

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“I’d like to think that every year something in my game has helped me improve, whether it’s good or bad – and I definitely appreciate that that’s not the end of it for me. I haven’t come through it and now everything’s fine. I’ve got to keep working hard. Potentially I could go through a bad patch again. All of these things I’m totally aware of. But all I can do is do my best, respect the people around me, respect my management and try to be the first choice.”

It is a different life now for goalkeepers. Even Peter Shilton never managed to nail the fragrance and shampoo endorsements that Hart has, and in those days keepers, or any other player for that matter, did not have sculpted eyebrows. But for the new generation, the pressure is the same.

 

There are the moments it is impossible not to ask Hart about, when it comes to his England experience – starting with his attempts to put off Andrea Pirlo at the penalty shoot-out at Euro 2012. that ended with his famous “Panenka penalty”. “I’ll never regret how it was,” Hart says. “That was how I saw the best way to win us the shoot-out. It wasn’t. But at the time it felt like it was. I don’t think it made any difference or that it was personal. He scored a penalty. I don’t think there was any personal vengeance from him. There certainly wasn’t any thought of that from me.”

Two days from England’s first game at the finals and Hart’s World Cup tournament debut, conversation yesterday turned back to Green’s mistake for Dempsey’s goal four years ago. It is telling that when Hart talks about Green there is evidence of a real bond with his fellow goalkeeper and genuine sympathy. “Rob showed fantastic mental strength,” he says. “He’s someone I admire in terms of that. He was absolutely brilliant. He definitely didn’t have a bad game. He had a bad moment, which we all have. If you analyse the players who played that day, every single one of them will have had a bad moment. That’s the nature of being a goalkeeper. Robert understands that, I understand it.”

England’s World Cup goalkeeping howlers

Peter Bonetti, 1970

Gordon Banks’ illness gave the Chelsea keeper an unexpected chance in the quarter-final against West Germany in Leon. “The Cat” let a tame Franz Beckenbauer shot under his body as the holders blew a two-goal lead to go out 3-2.

Peter Shilton, 1990

Marked his 125th and final cap with a major error in the third-place game against Italy in Bari. Instead of  picking up a back pass, allowed Roberto Baggio to dispossess him to score as the Azzurri won 2-1.

David Seaman, 2002

The Arsenal keeper stood and watched Ronaldinho’s free-kick sail over his head from the byline to seal England’s 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Brazil in Shizuoka. 

Rob Green, 2010

Let a Clint Dempsey shot squirm through his hands and over the line for the United States’ equaliser in England’s 1-1 draw in their opening game in Rustenburg.

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